Take my love, take it down.
Oh oh, climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection, in the snow covered hills
Well, a landslide’ll bring it down.
Singing slightly off-key, psychology professor Emma Swan, aka Ghosthunter Swan, better known as Skeptical Swan, founder and principle investigator in the Skeptical Paranormal Investigation & Experimentation Society, SPIES for short, sang along with the old Stevie Nicks’ song as she piloted her vintage yellow VW down the back Maine road. It was the middle of the day, not quite noon, but it was grey and gloomy, as if it were trying to rain. Adding to a sense of suffocation were deep over-hanging woods coming right up to the road. A light mist was beginning to drift in.
Thank god for her GPS. She would have never found this place without Gypsy Dave as she had named her technological guide. Emma had taken the time to program the thing with a warm male voice with a slight English accent. It kept her company on these long roads and gave her the illusion of human companionship. Her people would be coming along tonight. She was coming in first to settle in, to make the initial contact and to set up some equipment. Her backseat was piled with some of the esoteric equipment of her trade.
She had long since turned off a primary road and had been traveling along this secondary pissant paved trail that reminded her of notorious Clinton Road in Passiac County for nearly an hour.
Where the hell was this place?
As if in answer to her question, she rounded the corner and saw the sign, “Welcome to Storybrooke.”
Knowing that little towns often made a good portion of their revenue through arrests and ticketing minor traffic violations and that was something to really be afraid of made her slow up as she drove on.
Emma looked around at the picturesque little town. She wondered if maybe she had just driven right into a Hallmark special. Never-been-married Swan, psychology professor at a small college, comes to a Maine seacoast town to do a paranormal investigation and finds true love and happiness.
Well that was even more unlikely than her finding a real ghost.
The town was like something out of the fifties. A divided main street with stores on both sides and plenty of street parking. Right here was a little family owned drug store. And over there was a little family owned dry cleaner. And over there was a little family owned diner, an honest to goodness diner. Too good to pass up. She’d been on the road for more than three hours and food sounded good. She pulled into a parking place right near the front of the diner and went on in, expecting every patron to turn and look at her a stranger and they did.
This was a seat-yourself establishment, so she found a place that put her back to the door and most of the windows. “How are the hamburgers here?” she asked the scantily clad waitress. Was this Storybrooke or Vegas? The woman showed cleavage and nearly showed butt cheeks – of course, she also had the figure to show it off – and a pretty face to boot.
“Best thing on the menu,” the woman answered her. “I’d also recommend our fries and iced tea.”
“Sounds great,” Emma told her. She sat back and looked the place over. Small, clean, well-ordered. Off-white Formica topped tables set between dark burgundy plastic covered booth seats. Each table had its own sleek silver napkin holder, salt and pepper shakers and sugar in jarred dispenser rats, no splenda packets. By now everyone had turned back to their own meals. So, interested in new faces but not overly hostile or suspicious. Nice.
The burger and the fries were very good. The iced tea was surprisingly good; she hadn’t expected a Maine establishment to do justice to the southern beverage. She ate and waited for a lull to call the waitress over.
“Listen, I’m looking for an old house. It’s a bed and breakfast out on Broken Axle Road, near the coast.”
The waitress sucked her breath in, “Whoa, you’re going to The Dark Castle?”
“Dark Castle, no,” said Professor Swan, “I’m looking for a B&B named Goldark Inn.”
“Yup, that’s The Dark Castle.” The waitress looked around and seeing that there were no customers in need of ordering or coffee or any attention, she sat down. “Are you going there to stay?”
“Not exactly. I think there is another place in town, the Storybrooke Inn, where I’ll be staying.”
“Yeah, my grandma runs that. But why are you going to The Dark Castle?”
“Just to visit the place,” Emma was evasive.
“Are you one of those ghost hunters or just someone out for a thrill?” the waitress was intently interested. “We get both kinds coming out to that creepy place all the time. Most of them don’t make it very long. Some only manage a couple of hours before they clear out. My best friend and her husband are the caretakers. I don’t see how they manage it, but I guess they can use the money.”
Emma was curious as to what the local legends were, “Really? What kinds of things go on there?”
“Sightings, voices, dark shadows, people hearing things, footsteps on staircases, things getting moved around, people getting pushed, getting scratched, you know,” she shrugged.
“Sounds like a combination of a very old house and over-active imaginations,” Emma observed.
“Maybe so, but no one, absolutely no one had made it through a night in The Red Room. They all scurry out, sick, scared, screaming,” the waitress said, waiting for the full impact of her statement on Emma.
“The Red Room?” Emma had, of course, heard of The Red Room. After all, it was in all of the brochures for the Goldark Inn, hyped as The most haunted inn in New England.
Yeah well, thought Emma, they all were.
“Yeah, it’s the upstairs bedroom.” The waitress lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “It used to be the bedroom of Cora Goldark, the wife of the original owner. She was supposed to have been some kind of evil witch. She was poisoned by her husband and her pissed-off spirit has stayed around to haunt the place and try to get back at her husband – and anybody else who gets in her path. Well, so goes the story,” the waitress explained.
“That is quite the story,” commented Emma. Hmmm, history of a betrayed wife, aka the murder victim, now vengeful spirit. Yeah, she’d heard that one plenty of times. Old house, creepy location. No wonder it had gotten a reputation.
“I’ve been out there a few times. The place does give you the willies,” the waitress told her. “Watch yourself if you decide to go,” she advised Emma. At that point a pleasant looking, tall fellow came in. Checking out his accoutrements, Emma was impressed and, oh yes, he had a gun and a badge. He was clearly the local constabulary. He smiled and waved at the waitress and nodded at Emma.
“Hey Graham,” the waitress called over to him. “Be right with you.”
“Sheriff?” Emma asked.
“Uh hum. And our lady mayor’s . . . umm, very good friend.”
“So he’s taken,” Emma guessed.
“Depends, he’s not as into the mayor as she’s into him. Now if a pretty blond doctor comes in, he’s mine, well, at least for this week,” the waitress told her with a wink. “But there is a world class photographer who comes in here in the early morning. He’s here for a while with his sick dad . . . and one other guy, a famous writer, who’s just had a messy breakup with his top model fiancée. He comes in here just every so often. Both are pretty hot, unattached, and very hetero.”
“Well thanks,” Emma nodded. “If I need a hook up, I guess I’ll hang around here. Now how do I get out to the inn?”
The waitress called over the sheriff. “Graham, tell this lady how to get out to The Dark Castle.”
“Ma’am,” Sheriff Graham had been standing by the counter when the waitress had called to him. “Sure thing. Go east,” the Sheriff pointed, “Along Kinmont. It’s almost exactly five miles out, and you’ll need to look for the left turn. That’s Broken Axle Road and it’s easy to miss. It’s just a little, narrow road that goes off through the forest.”
Emma thanked him and the waitress, paid for her meal adding a generous tip. After all, she planned to be in town for almost a week and figured she’d be back to eat in this place. She made her way back out to the car, cranked it up and drove out looking for the B&B. She had to turn on the wipers to clear the mist.
She kept an eye on the odometer but when she rang up seven miles she realized she must have missed the turnoff and turned around to go back now looking for the road on the right.
She finally saw it, and saw how she would have missed it the first time. It was barely visible in the darkness of the overhanging trees. It was barely paved. It was barely a road, just one lane wide. She turned slowly to go down the road and proceeded cautiously, hoping she wouldn’t meet anyone coming the other way. And hoped that whatever series of calamities that had caused this road to be named Broken Axle Road had long since been addressed and would not be of concern to her. At any rate, it was not going to be easy getting Leroy’s van down this road.
It was probably a ten minute drive at thirty miles an hour. The road was bad with potholes, trees lying in or almost in the road, other rough patches with little pavement, and the drive became tense with Emma’s hands gripping the wheel. Abruptly, she burst out of the woods and onto the grounds as if she had been shot out of a chute.
It was beautiful.
It was creepy.
The house, still a ways off, was indeed an old one, the original structure had been built before the Revolutionary War, more than three hundred years ago, and had likely been added on to multiple times. She could make out at least three stories, probably four, counting an attic, with a central honest-to-god turreted tower. It was dark structure, foreboding and looked like the address should be 0001 Cemetery Lane.
Yeah, easy to see why anyone would think this place is haunted.
Emma drove up through the black iron gates surprised that there weren’t griffin statues standing guard and gargoyles hanging off the roof – anything to put people off. She was crawling along a well-manicured driveway, surprised to find the grounds so well kept, especially because it was so late in the season. Apparently whoever had planned the landscaping had also planted bushes and trees that looked gorgeous in the late fall. Emma suspected that things would look absolutely glorious in the spring and summer.
As she approached the house, Emma saw crows sitting on the tower.
What was the old rhyme? One is for sorrow, Two is for joy. . . .
She racked her brain. There were six crows sitting on the tower.
Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five is for silver, Six is for gold.
As she finished counting, a seventh crow joined the six.
Seven’s for a secret that can never be told.
Great. Emma sighed.
Well, fortunately she was not superstitious.
Emma pulled into the Guest Parking area near the front door, got her bag and headed on to the front door. She gave a friendly wave to the lone woman who was wandering in the sad, now past-its-prime sparse flower and herb garden. Emma could see a few chrysanthemums, pansies, and some type of tall sage still blooming but little else. There was some rosemary and some other greenery that Emma presumed were herbs but this went far afield from her expertise. Emma could see that the woman had stopped walking and waved back at her