Haunted Eureka Springs

With two family members I went up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, recently. I say we went up because Eureka Springs is high in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Eureka Springs once billed itself as a health resort; it is now very much a tourist destination. Packed with small shops and historic sites, a trip to Eureka Springs is in some ways a journey into the past.

The three of us stayed in a motel on the main highway. I know I shouldn’t complain—our lodgings were probably better than those of half the world’s population—but the place was rather decrepit and poorly-run. The one lock on the main door to our room was hard to work—even the motel manager struggled with it. The door to the bathroom closed but did not latch shut. Both the heater and the refrigerator were loud, making it difficult to fall asleep once the lights were out. The cleaning service left a plastic cup on the floor behind the toilet and a slipper on the floor by the dresser. The complementary breakfast was missing, except for a little breakfast cereal and a pitcher of milk in the mini-fridge. Worst of all, the room we were staying in was haunted.

Let me immediately interrupt my account to say that I do not believe in hauntings. The Bible says that when a believer dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Paradise; when an unbeliever dies, his or her soul is immediately taken to Hades. Human spirits do not linger on this planet. Accounts of hauntings are due to a combination of wishful thinking (or dread), imagination, exaggeration, occasionally deliberate fraud, and unexpected events that fool the senses into seeing or hearing something that is not really there. The fact that I do not believe in ghosts does not prevent me from enjoying a good ghost story. I’ve even written a ghost story, which you can read here if you wish.

The Crescent Hotel, high atop a hill in Eureka Springs, is claimed to be haunted. It opened as a hotel and currently operates as a hotel, but in between it has been a girls’ school and a hospital. The proprietors encourage legends of ghosts in the building and even provide a tour of the hotel to allow guides to talk about the history of the building and the ghosts that supposedly remain there. For example, one ghost lives in a certain room of the Hotel and generally leaves guests alone. If they are loud or quarrelsome, though, it has been known to take the clothing the guests hung neatly in the closet and drop them to the floor.

The three of us stopped by the Crescent Hotel, not to take the ghost tour (which all of us have taken before), but to look at Christmas decorations. We also drove around the city to look at other decorations. When we returned to the motel, we hung up our winter coats and sat down to play a card game. The hangers in the motel, like those of many budget motels, are not ordinary hangers with hooks on the top. Instead, they have pegs which fit into slotted knobs on the hanger rod. I guess this keeps guests from stealing hangers from the hotel, since those peg-topped hangers would be useless anywhere else. Like everything else in the motel, the peg-topped hangers and slotted knobs were worn with age and with frequent use.

So we were playing a card game—not being particularly loud or at all quarrelsome—when one of the coats across the room dropped to the floor. Its owner picked it up and hung it again. Soon the same coat and another both dropped to the floor. At various times each of us had to rehang our coats, although mine dropped only once. We congratulated ourselves at experiencing a ghost in Eureka Springs without having to pay the fee for the ghost tour of the Crescent Hotel.

During the night I was startled awake by a voice that called my name. It was a young woman’s voice, although not that of anyone I recognized. We agreed the next morning that I must have been addressed by the same ghost who played with our coats, and another of us had to search for her socks in the morning, as they were not where she remembered leaving them the night before.

If anyone wants to stay in the haunted motel room in Eureka Springs, I can tell you the name of the motel and the room number. But don’t expect to sleep soundly or to be fed breakfast in the morning. About all they have to offer is their ghost. J.

PS: Due to trouble with the modem that serves my home computer, I am having to reach WordPress at the library. As a result, you can expect some irregularity in the posting of my Advent thoughts.

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No Such Thing As Crazy (was Flashback 1986), part seven

Juan refused to sleep in the same bed as a married woman. He decided that instead he would sleep on the floor. This led to an argument with Laura which ended when Juan grabbed a pillow and a spare blanket and walked down to the motel lobby. The clerk at the desk eyed him curiously. “Had a fight with the Missus,” Juan said. He chose the most comfortable-looking chair, pulled off his shoes, and tried to get a few hours of sleep.

He managed to slumber fitfully until the morning staff began setting up the complementary breakfast. Juan put on his shoes and returned to the room. He quietly unlocked the door and stepped in. Laura was asleep on the bed. Juan grabbed some fresh clothes from his suitcase along with his toiletry kit and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

When he was clean and shaved and dressed, he turned and saw Laura, wrapped in a sheet, sitting on the bed and looking at him. “Breakfast is ready,” he told her. “We can dawdle over it; my friend’s office doesn’t open until nine.”

Laura yawned. “You go on ahead,” she said. “I’ll join you after I’ve had my shower.”

Juan was sipping his second cup of coffee when she made her appearance. She had managed to find an outfit much like her usual garb, complete with large earrings. Juan smiled at her, and she smiled back. She ate a light breakfast with fruit juice—no coffee—and then asked, “What else can we do to kill time until nine o’clock?”

“You could satisfy my curiosity about something.” Juan paused, uncertain how to phrase his questions. “This husband of yours—Ron—where did you meet him and why did you marry him?”

Laura laughed. “OK, fair enough. Ron is an amateur stand-up comedian—very amateur,” she emphasized. “But he has a way of getting what he wants from people. Like the police uniform you saw him wearing—that was just a costume, as phony as the search warrant.”

“So he’s not a police officer?”

“Right. Well, one of his friends managed to get him a job as an extra on the show I’m in. He was only in two episodes, but he took the opportunity to talk with me. He can be very charming, and he was with me. We had dinner together a couple of times, and then—out of the blue—he proposed to me.”

“And you accepted.” Laura nodded. “Why?”

“I know it sounds funny, but he swept me off my feet. Other men seemed to be drawn to my looks or my fame or my money. Ron made it seem as though he cared about the real me. We had a Las Vegas wedding, and soon I discovered that looks and fame and money were all that mattered to him when he was with me. Especially the money. I stayed with him three months. I should have left sooner.”

“However did he manage to involve you in that stunt at the airport?”

“A lot of fast talking, some threats—I won’t tell you what they were—and the thought that, after this, I might never hear from him again.”

Juan shook his head. “The whole thing still confuses me, but the most confusing part is this: how could any man treat you like this?”

Laura smiled weakly. “Partly it’s his disorder, and partly it’s my insecurity. I’m sure when he met me—maybe even before he met me—he could see the word ‘victim’ written all over me.”

The two chatted for the rest of the hour. Shortly before nine o’clock, they went out to Juan’s car and he drove them to the private detective agency.

Mike Johnson had been trained as a police investigator, but after a few years with the force, he decided to move to Westfield and go into business for himself. Much of the work was tedious—for example, getting details about one of the parties in an impending divorce—but every so often a case came along that made the job worth keeping. Juan expected that Laura’s predicament would be one such case.

The two friends shook hands. Gesturing toward Laura, Juan said, “And I believe you know who this is.”

“I would need to see some identification,” Mike said, always the cautious one, “but I will say that she bears a striking resemblance to the actress, Laura Kinser.”

“Not only does she resemble her,” Juan boasted. “She is her.”

“Given the news of the last few days, I definitely want to see some identification. But first, won’t you take a seat.”

“Thank you,” Laura sad as she sat. Mike settled into his chair behind his desk. Juan also found a chair and sat. “Identification is the problem. All of mine was lost with my airplane.” She described to Mike the plan Ron had invented to blow up her airplane and collect insurance money, a plan which ripened when Harvey learned of his terminal state of health. In words almost identical to those she had spoken to Juan, she explained how Ron persuaded her to accompany him to the airport. “I thought that, within hours of the explosion, he would get me out of there and I’d be off to some private resort. Instead, he left me there, locked up, for two days. When he came back for me, he had a gun. I panicked. I ran. Juan helped me to hide, and he’s been helping me ever since.” She smiled warmly at him.

“I figured a man in your position would be able to help Laura prove her identity,” Juan interrupted. “There must be something that will work—fingerprints, maybe, or dental records; a DNA sample, or a voice print….”

“All excellent thoughts,” Mike said, “but if you want to do this quickly, we can rule out DNA and voice prints. Fingerprints would be great if we already had an authenticated set of Laura’s prints. Trying to obtain such a set would be difficult after several days, though.” He peered over his glasses at Laura with some amusement. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever been arrested, have you?” She shook her head no. “Too bad,” he said in a cheerful voice with a twinkle in his eye. “That would have been convenient.

“Dental records are our best bet, then,” Mike continued. “Laura, tell me who your dentist is, and I’ll arrange to have your last X-rays delivered to my computer. Meanwhile, there’s a dentist here in town who can take a set of X-rays this morning or this afternoon. He and I will compare both sets and see if we have an answer.”

Laura’s face was increasingly pale as Mike said these things. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, so softly both men had to lean toward her to hear her. “I haven’t been to the dentist in more than two years.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mike assured her. Even if they’re five years old, or older than that, we can still use them.”

“But I don’t even remember who the dentist was, or where his office was.”

“Now, that is a problem, but not too big for me to handle. Tell you what: I’ll track down your last dental records. All you have to do is visit Doctor Welz for X-rays. I’ll make an appointment for you right now.” Mike picked up the phone.

“No, wait!” Tears welled in Laura’s eyes as she said, “I can’t do this. I’m very much afraid of dentists.”

“Laura,” Juan said gently. “This isn’t a full dentist appointment. This is just X-rays. They take hardly any time at all.” He smiled at her. “He isn’t going to clean your teeth or examine them.”

She shook her head. The tears began to flow down her cheeks. “Isn’t there some other way?” she demanded. “I’m scared of dentists.”

Mike set down the phone. “Laura,” he said. “I want to help you. But you have to do this my way. The dental records will prove who you are. If you refuse to do this, I won’t help you, and neither would any other investigator.”

Still crying, she pleaded, “Wouldn’t be easier to start over with a new name, a new identity?”

Mike laughed, but his laughter was kind. “Not in this century!” he exclaimed. “I might be justified in putting you into a Witness Protection Program, but even they would need to have firm evidence of who you were before they changed you into someone new. Now let me call the dentist and get this started.”

Juan added, “Laura, you have to do this!”

She smiled at him through her tears. “If you say I have to,” she said, “I have to.”

Mike placed the call and set an appointment for 10:30 that morning. “Come back at three,” he said. “I may have something for you by then.”

They began to stand, prepared to leave, when Mike said, “Oh, one more thing. I probably should track down this Ron Lawrence. Can you tell me where to find him?”

Laura dropped back into the chair. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. In a monotone, unlike her usual voice, she slowly recited an address. Mike thanked her and dismissed them again.

Heavy clouds were moving in as Juan and Laura returned to the car. They decided to drive around town until Laura’s 10:30 appointment. “How did you get to know Mike Johnson?” she asked as they traveled.

“We were neighbors when I was growing up,” Juan answered. “He was a police officer then—he hadn’t become a private investigator. He’s the reason I decided to take a job as security guard. I was thinking I might join the police force someday, just like him.”

At 10:15 they stopped at Dr. Welz’s office. His receptionist welcomed them and assured them that Mike Johnson would pay for the X-rays. A hygienist led them to the examination room. Laura began to cry again, so Juan took her hand. “Stay with me,” she begged him. Juan knew that the X-rays posed a small health risk, but he was willing to take bigger risks than that for Laura. She squeezed his hand tightly as the four images were taken.

“Mr. Johnson will be by later to look at these with Doctor Welz,” the hygienist said. “That’s all we need; you’re free to go.”

A shower had left drops on the sidewalk and on the car during those few minutes, but it was not raining as Juan and Laura returned to the motel. Almost immediately she turned on the television and absorbed herself in the program. The two of them had a light and leisurely lunch from the food Laura had packed in Juan’s kitchen. Occasional rain splattered on the room’s windows while they waited. Eventually, the time came for Juan and Laura to return to Mike Johnson’s office. There they would discover what the investigator had found.

Flashback 1986, part five

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

You can read part four here

Juan stopped at a motel next to the highway on the edge of town. “I wonder if they’ll take cash for a room,” he said. “I really don’t want to use a credit card.”

“Let me put my feminine charm to work,” Laura suggested. “It might also require a little tip, but I think I can manage this.”

Ten minutes later, she was back in the car. “Did it work?” Juan asked. In answer, she showed him the cardkey. “What did you tell them?” he asked.

“Mostly, I told the truth,” she said, smiling. “I said I had been in an accident and my purse was lost with all my credit cards, my driver’s license, and other identification. The only lie I spoke was my name—I told them that I’m Martha Jones.” Juan smiled, and he moved the car closer to their room.

After unloading the car, the two drove down the road to a Walmart. Laura took some of Juan’s money and went shopping for clothes, while he wandered from department to department: outdoor furnishings and supplies, paint and home repair, automotive, toys, electronics—anything but clothing. When that bored him, Juan went to the front of the store and sat on a bench. Soon he saw Laura getting into a line for a cashier. He waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. Juan stayed on the bench until she had paid for her clothing, then stood up to join her.

As they walked through the doorway to the parking lot, they heard a firm voice behind them say, “Please stop, folks—I need to talk with you.”

Both were tempted to break into a run, but they controlled their fear and turned. The man who had spoken to them was wearing a dark suit and a tie. “I’d like to check your bags and your receipt, please,” he said in a gruff voice that clearly offered them no choice.

“Could we see some identification first?” Juan asked. The man shook his head. “I’m store security,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.” Juan wondered if he and Laura should just walk away, but it seemed safer not to cause a scene.

Wordlessly, Laura handed him her bags of clothing. With care he matched each item to the receipt. Then he reloaded the bags and handed them to her. “Now, sir, I’d like to check your pockets.”

“What’s all this about?” Juan asked.

“You were acting suspiciously in the store,” the man told him. “Just let me search you, and if I don’t find anything wrong, you’re free to go.”

Juan took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and handed them to Laura. So long as the man from Walmart didn’t demand to see identification, Juan thought, they would be fine. The man patted Juan’s pockets and also checked to see if Juan had anything between his shirt and his body. His touch was professional, and in less than a minute he was satisfied that Juan had stolen nothing. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the man said, no trace of apology in his tone of voice. “Catching thieves saves you money, you know.” Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he turned and went back into the store.

Juan sighed loudly. Laura laughed and gave him his wallet and keys. They returned to the car and went back to the motel.

Laura went into the bathroom to change clothes. She left the door ajar, but Juan averted his eyes. He saw the television and decided to turn it on.

“Do you want to eat some of the food we brought, or should we go out for dinner?” Laura asked as the came out of the bathroom, but Juan hushed her. She didn’t like being ignored, but she understood when he pointed at the TV. She saw her own face looking back at her. A voice proclaimed, “Investigators today released their first findings regarding the explosion, evidence that the airplane had been sabotaged.  No motive for the sabotage has been determined. Although personal items belonging to the actress were recovered, her body has not been found. The partially-burned body that was recovered from the scene was identified as a male in his thirties. The coroner indicated that the man suffered from a terminal case of lung cancer. His name has not been released.”

Laura dropped to the bed next to Juan. “It sounds like the investigation has gone well so far,” she told him. Her face had disappeared from the screen as the newscaster went on to a different story.

“They are still searching for your body at the airport,” Juan said. “They don’t realize that you’re alive.”

She reached out and stroked Juan’s hair. “Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so important,” she cooed.

Juan stood and said, “And they probably don’t know anything about the other man who kidnapped you.”

Laura sat up straight. “That other man…” she began angrily. Then she lay back on the bed and said more calmly. “That other man will be found soon enough.”

Juan didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Then he said, “Were you talking about dinner a little bit ago?”

They looked at a phone book and discussed their options. Westfield had several restaurants. Neither of them was in the mood for hamburgers or pizza, and Juan didn’t want to spend his money too quickly. They chose a Chinese food buffet, drove there, and ate their fill. Leaving the restaurant half an hour before sunset, they noticed a park with grass and trees and flowerbeds across the street. “Let’s go for a stroll,” Laura suggested.

As they walked through the park, Laura reached out and took his hand. He wanted to let go, but his hand felt good and also natural in hers. Neither of them spoke as they wandered from one flowerbed to another. The western sky became pink, then rosy, and then purple. Soon the evening star was glowing above the horizon.

“This is a perfect evening,” Laura said. “Every day should end this way.”

Juan saw some flying creatures—he did not know whether they were birds or bats. “I think the car is in this direction,” he said, turning away from the sunset and walking east, Laura’s hand still in his. Their closeness made Juan bold enough to inquire of her, “How did you get into acting? And do you enjoy it?”

Laura began telling the story she had told so many times before. She described a little girl growing up in a poor but happy family. When she was in high school, she suddenly decided to turn away from poverty and happiness in pursuit of fame, money, and loneliness. Skipping quickly over three years of waitressing, snatching food from plates the busboys had cleared from the tables so she could save her tips to buy make-up and clothes. She related how, without great expectations, she took part in an audition her agent recommended. The character made no sense to her, and the entire show seemed nonsensical, but the directors and the writer insisted that she was perfect for the part.

The show bombed. It never even appeared on a television screen outside the network offices. The director did not forget Laura. He kept in contact with her agent, invited her to three more auditions over the next two months, and also told his friends about her. One of his friends decided to take a chance on her. His show became a sensational hit. Now, four years later, Laura Kinser was riding the crest of public favor and adulation. That brought them to the present, to the sudden unexplained kidnapping and the staged plane crash and her escape.

“You know the rest,” she told Juan as they reached the car. “That’s all there is to tell. Anything else about my life,” she lied outrageously, “would be too boring to tell.”

As Juan drove back to the motel, Laura yawned. “It’s funny,” she said. “Half the world thinks I’m dead, and the other half probably thinks I staged the whole incident to take a long vacation. They’re probably imagining me on a beach in Tahiti or southern France, some place exotic like that.” She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Can’t say that I’m disappointed that they’re wrong.”

As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Juan said, “Tomorrow we can visit with an investigator I know here in town. He will be able to prove that you are who you say you are, and he can get the authorities started on track to find your kidnapper. That should just about wrap things up for me.” He put the car into park, and then he said, “What do you plan to do after that?”

Laura smiled. “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”

Juan said, “You’ve told me several times how lonely you are. Now that we’ve spent all this time together—and now that we’re about to spend the night together in a motel room—well, would you be interested in having a boyfriend?”

In the dark car, Juan couldn’t see Laura’s face, but he could hear her low-pitched chuckle. “Maybe we should see how the night goes before I answer that question.”

“Listen,” Juan said quickly, “Nothing is going to happen between us tonight, not even if you say you want me as your boyfriend. I don’t move that fast.”

“Oh, please don’t be so old-fashioned,” Laura retorted. “Until now, I’ve wondered if you even liked me. You’ve been so distant, so cold, so… so gentlemanly it almost frightens me.”

“Not even like you?” Juan spluttered. “Laura, I’m crazy about you. I’d do almost anything for you. Why else would I set aside my job to protect you, to bring you out here where you’re safe, where you’ll have a chance to prove who you really are?”

“Oh, I appreciate that,” she said airily. “And I’m grateful, I truly am. But before you offer to be my boyfriend again, let’s try to do a few more romantic things together, OK?”

“OK,” Juan agreed. They left the car and went into their motel room.

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

To be continued… J.