The Stanley, Room 217
I finally managed to earn the copious amounts of money required to book a night at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Being a horror movie buff and a recreational ghost hunter, room 217 at the Stanley was the ultimate haunted room. Even though I had to book the stay six months in advance, I was beyond excited knowing I’d be able to stay there on June 25, the one night per year that paranormal activity was supposed to be at its highest at the Stanley.
As I made the drive from Boulder to Estes Park, made unusually long with the summer traffic, I reminisced about my life as the scenic canyons and mountains both fell and rose all around me. At twenty-four years old and a computer nerd, I aspired to be the next billionaire like Zuckerberg. I’d moved to a basement apartment in Boulder a year after my parents both died in a car crash. Getting out of Palo Alto and the memories associated to that area was imperative for my mental wellbeing. I also thought the apartment, which was situated only two blocks away from the famous Mork and Mindy house, might stir my creative juices. My parents left a small nest egg that allowed me to work towards the new ChrisBook or whatever I was to call my new company, but I still worked the odd job to pay for my basics and getting away for weekend excursions like this one.
I pulled up to the Stanley Hotel around noon. Thankfully I had thought ahead and prepared a lunch and ate it while I drove to avoid the overpriced twenty-dollar sandwiches at the hotel restaurant. I was splurging on dinner at the hotel tonight anyways. From the guardhouse I looked up at the hotel and felt it appeared much smaller than the movies portrayed. It was still grand, but it just seemed small.
I managed to convince the hotel to give me a private tour of the facility as part of my stay. They often gave public tours, but I wanted the ‘real’ stories and a chance to see the seedy and psychic underbelly of the hotel. I arrived early before I could gain access to my room so I could take the tour. The gentleman at the front desk registered me with a look of surprise that a twenty-four year old could afford such a room, a glint of humor that I’d probably not last the night, and a hint of ominous fear. He completed my registration and handed me over to my guide for the early afternoon.
My guide took me outside into the warm, dry summer air. I was grateful for the altitude to moderate the temperature. I love the smell of the pine and fir scented air of the mountains. We walked out onto the front patio to look at the façade of the hotel. “Mr. Dermoty, or can I call you Chris?”
“Chris, please.” I’ve always been a bit of a traditionalist. I guess that goes along with being a bit of a history buff. However, when it came to my name, Mr. Dermoty made me feel all uppity and I preferred simply being called Chris.
“Welcome to the Stanley, Chris. I’m Mary and most people here call me Scary Mary as I’ve been giving ghost tours for fifteen years.”
“Very nice to meet you, Mary.”
“So what brings you here to the Stanley?”
Everything I thought to myself. “I’m a fan of haunted things and Stephen King is my favorite author. I’m staying in room 217 tonight.”
“Then I’m sure you’re well aware that Stephen King was staying in room 217 when he came up with his idea for the story, The Shining?”
“Oh, yes! I also watched both the movie and the remake in 1997 as a television mini-series.”
“It sounds as if you’ve done your homework on this place so I won’t bore you with a lot of details. As you can see, the hotel is building a hedge maze. In a few years, it will greatly add to the original movie ambiance and feel, even though it has no actual historical significance. Looking back at the front of the hotel, you can see the small balcony to right on the second floor. That’s room 217. Are you aware that Jim Carey refused to stay in the room and even declined to stay a night in the hotel?”
“I wasn’t aware of that. I did hear that there had been an explosion that might have killed people?”
“Yes, but there are mixed stories. All the version have some semblance of similarities. It was June 25, 1911, one hundred and five years ago to the day. The stories all start saying a lightning storm caused a power outage and the backup gas lanterns had to be used. Apparently, one of the lanterns in room 217 was leaking gas. Now, here’s where the story starts to vary. One story states a maid entered the room carrying a candle and boom! The resulting explosion sent her into the dining area below breaking both her ankles. Another variant suggested that two women and a man were killed in the blast and another woman died of smoke inhalation. Yet another version suggested it was all an elaborate cover-up for a major crime and half a dozen people were killed. Personally, I tend to believe the second version.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I’ve seen three different female and a male ghost in that room at different times. Come on, let’s head down into the basement.”
I was led into the dark basement of the hotel and was immediately assaulted with the musty smell of old papers and mildew. I was surprised to see the foundation was made of darkened and dusty brick archways having pictured a more traditional cement. Between the archways were storage areas.
“Our preservation team has been collecting and documenting historical information we’ve found down here for almost ten years now. Most of this stuff has been untouched for many years. A few years ago we even found original wallpaper and carpet from room 217. When the blast occurred, the room had to be gutted and some of the remnants were stored down here. The preservation team was able to replicate the paper and carpet selection and last year room 217 was renovated with virtually identical coverings. When you stay there, it’ll be the same as the night the explosion occurred.”
“That’s amazing. Is room 217 the only haunted room?”
“Oh no. There are rooms on the top floor that used to be nurseries. It gets so bad at times that people have taken to leaving candies on the tables in there for the ghost children. There have been reports of ghosts here in the basement, in the area of the old barn, and people have seen ghosts walking through the hotel at night.”
“What have some people experienced?”
“Most won’t experience anything, but some… Let me say that I think you’re rather brave. Personally, I think these stories are fabricated to bring more publicity, but, one never knows. There are stories of some people vanishing entirely and others wake up at night to find themselves hearing bands playing in the music hall and seeing people walking around in period clothing.”
I was getting rather excited about all of this. “And why do you think there are so many ghost sightings here and nowhere else in Estes Park?”
“Lore has it that Mr. Stanley came to the area and fell in love with the views. His wife, Flora, suffered from tuberculosis and coming to the mountains was part of her cure. When they arrived, sometime around 1900, he absolutely had to have this plot of land. Of course, the people of the city knew this land to be haunted and felt it was linked to old Indian burial grounds.”
“Of course. Doesn’t that always seem to be the case in hauntings?”
“I’m just telling you like I heard the stories. Choose to believe what you will. The hotel was opened in 1909 and had its own electric power source and running water. It was considered one of the only places west of the Mississippi to have electricity at the time.” She led me further into the basement and I glanced at papers and pictures as I went. One picture caught my eye, well, actually, it was a person in a picture that caught my eye.
I picked up the old photo and blew the dust off of it and stared at the image of a stunning young woman. She was standing with a group of other servants, but she stood out. Even with her dark skirt and uniform, her long blonde hair and eyes fairly leapt off the photo at me.
“Please don’t touch anything! Wait a minute…” She took the photo from my hand. “I’ve seen her before.” She pointed to the blonde woman in the photo. “She’s one of the women I’ve seen in room 217.”
“Wow… I hope I see her. She’s beautiful.”
“Back in those days, women started working here in their middle teens. She looks to be around eighteen or nineteen. You see this?”
I squinted at the picture. “The bracelet?”
“Yes. Very interesting. I’ve heard tales that some wealthy families in the area sent their daughters here to work in hopes they’d catch the eyes of wealthy men. No one else is wearing jewelry, so I suppose this could bring some truth to those tales. To wear something like that would indicate she was wealthy, or at least her family was.” I watched as she carefully put the photo back down.
A chill ran down my spine as the basement lights flickered and old pipes started banging. When the lights came back on they flickered again and I swore I saw a man in a trench coat standing in the corner. I swallowed and blinked and the man was gone. I tried to make sure I looked like nothing had happened. “What’s the history of this place and its ties to crime syndicates?”
Mary led me back upstairs as she told me the tales of how the hotel had been a magnet for mob meetings. “Not too many people could really afford to come here and stay. Those that did were rich and influential. Far from the life we watch on old TV shows, those that were rich were typically involved in some kind of shady activities.” Mary led me into the music room. “People can often hear music in this room, especially at night. Now it’s just used for events, but this is where the explosion blew a hole from room 217 just above. The bar around the corner was relocated about ten years ago and it used to be on the other side of the main staircase. I’ve been told people see writing in the mirrors and can smell cigar smoke when there isn’t anyone smoking.”
Outside we walked past the newly formed hedge maze that certainly wasn’t much of a maze at this point as the bushes were only up to my thigh in height. We wandered over to one of the many outbuildings. One was used for larger events, but one slightly behind it was an old barn. It had been maintained throughout the years. This was the same barn in the TV miniseries where the snowmobile was kept. There was a trap door in the floor that allowed people to go underneath into the old substructure of the original barn.
It was almost three in the afternoon when Mary led me back to the front desk. “It was my pleasure to take you on the tour today, Chris. Your room should now be ready and I’ll leave you in the capable hands of the check-in staff. I’d be happy to check in with you tomorrow to see how your stay was.”
“Thank you, Mary.” I watched her go and secretly hoped I’d have a story to add to her collection tomorrow.
“Mr. Dermoty. Here’s your room key. There will be dinner in the dining room tonight from five until eight pm. Being June 25th most of the staff don’t like to stay late so our dinner hours are shorter than normal. Do you need help with your luggage?”
“I’m fine thank you.”
“You can either take the stairs or feel free to use the elevator.”
I smiled and headed to the elevator which had a “Guests only” sign outside. It wasn’t like I couldn’t take the stairs, but the TV miniseries drove me to stand in the same place Rebecca De Mornay had stood. The gate closed and I felt the ancient mechanisms lift the elevator with resounding squeaks and shudders. It was a short ride to the second floor and no confetti from a party one hundred years ago fell on me. I was so disappointed.
I walked down the hallway until I found room 217. I looked at the wooden door with the silver metal number plate and a chill went down my spine. I inserted the key and reached for the handle, half expecting it to be supernaturally ice cold, but I was slightly underwhelmed by the experience. I opened the door to see the luxurious room laid out before me. A large bed was off to the side, there was a solid wood desk, and several other chairs and a dresser with an oddly out of place flat screen TV on it. I ran my fingers over the furniture and imagined the history and things these items might have seen had they had eyes. I walked into the large bathroom and smiled at the black and white tiled floor and walls. A claw tub rested centered against the far wall. It looked exactly like the TV miniseries and I halfway expected to find a rotting corpse in the tub. Alas, nothing was there.
I unpacked my things and sat at the desk for a few minutes, pondering whether Steven King had sat in this very chair and at this desk to write the beginnings of his novel, The Shining. My disappointment grew when I felt no chills or heard any strange sounds. The room felt much like any other luxury hotel room. I left my room and wandered the grounds a little longer as the summer evenings things stayed bright for a long time. The bottom floor of the hotel had video presentations of the history of the hotel and memorabilia from stars and movies that had visited.
I went back to my room and ordered dinner, opting for it to be brought to my room. I figured I paid to stay in the room to watch for paranormal activity and I didn’t want to leave for dinner only to miss anything that might happen.
I was startled when around seven thirty there was a knock on the door. “Room service, Mr. Dermoty.”
I opened the door and watched an older woman push a cart into my room. She seemed a little skittish of the room and looked around nervously.
“Is there anything else you need, Mr. Dermoty?” I told her no, gave her a little tip and she hurried from the room.
I moved the food over to the desk and looked out the window as I ate. The Colorado evening sky was just beginning to darken slightly and the tops of the picturesque Rocky Mountains started turning amber as the last direct rays of sunshine hit them. It would be close to nine when the sky would be fully dark. When I finished my meal, I stood and stretched, feeling rather foolish for spending tons of my hard earned money to not see anything. At least June 25 was on a Saturday night and I’d get a restful weekend out of it. The food was exceptional, the views stunning, and the history intriguing.
I contemplated turning on the television and finding a horror movie to watch but I hesitated thinking it would almost be a cop out. I actually expected the movie, The Shining, would be playing twenty-four hours per day here. I could hear my friends back in Boulder now. “Oooooo. Chris was scared at the Stanley Hotel not because of ghosts, but because of a horror movie.” I sighed and sat on the edge of the bed and closed my eyes.
I opened them immediately when I heard my glass of water fall off the desk and onto the floor. I was surprised the glass didn’t break as I grabbed my cloth napkin and started dabbing up the water on the carpet. I must have left the glass right on the edge of the desk. I was logically figuring out what had happened as I knelt down and continued to clean up the water when I looked towards the bathroom. There were wet footprints that started from the puddle my glass had made and went straight towards the bathroom.
My heart skipped a few beats. I’d seen a few things that defied explanation, but nothing so tangible as this. Having seen the movies my mind ran rampant and in no time I was backing away from the puddle on the floor and seriously contemplating running to the car and getting out of there. I looked towards the door and shook my head. This is what I came for. I’d tough it out as long as I could. Suddenly the drapes on the windows closed and I dove across the bed to the other side furthest from the windows.
“Damn. I wonder if this is all a hoax to perpetuate the myths.”
I rushed over to the door and found it locked. I tried a dozen times to open it but it wouldn’t budge. I heard the shower start and steam slowly moved into the bedroom from the bathroom. The ethereal mist forming hideous shapes in my mind. “Get a grip on yourself, Chris.”
I tiptoed my way to the bathroom door and peered inside. The steam blocked most of my view but I could definitely hear the shower going. I took several very slow and cautious steps towards the shower. The only thing motivating me was the thought of the beautiful woman in the picture and that maybe she was taking a shower. I stretched my shaking hand to the shower curtain. I grabbed the edge and closed my eyes for a second to steel myself for any possibility. I opened my eyes as I ripped the curtain to the side. There was nothing in there! I reached in and turned off the water. The steam rapidly cleared and the bathroom was suddenly back to normal.
I turned to leave when I looked down and could now see wet footprints that left the bathroom. I glanced at myself in the mirror. Did I look different? Was my hair longer? Was something behind me? I spun on my heels to see nothing there but a fluttering curtain. My heart was racing and I looked back into the bedroom where the steps on the floor led. Ignoring what I thought I saw in the mirror, I walked slowly to the door and placed my hand on the doorframe to steady myself as I looked into the bedroom. That’s when I saw her.
The beautiful blonde young woman from the picture was standing near the bed. She was so stunning that I lost all fear. This wasn’t a Ghostbusters apparition. Far from a semi-transparent ghost, this woman looked almost tangible, like I could actually touch her. She wasn’t wearing the hotel uniform as in the picture, but rather a sexy red dress that hugged her curves and left little to the imagination. Her eyes seemed to focus on mine.
“You’re in terrible danger, Chris.”
“You’re a ghost. How do you know my name?” Was I really having a conversation with a ghost?
“It’s taking a great deal of energy for me to maintain this form and be able to speak with you. You must listen to me and listen carefully. You’re in terrible danger. As we speak, supernatural forces are transforming this place. At midnight, if you aren’t alive you’ll be trapped in this place as I am now. There are many of us that are trapped here. You’re going to see things that happened many years ago. If you want to live through the night, you must trust me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There’s no time for me to explain further. Will you trust me?” I watched as she looked over her shoulder frantically.
“I trust you.” I’m not sure why I said that to a dead person, but she wasn’t some ugly zombie and she appeared trustworthy. Well, at least as trustworthy as any other ghost woman I’d ever spoken to.
She flew at me with incredible speed and just as she was about to collide with me she vanished. I stood stunned looking at where she had just been standing when a long blonde strand of hair passed in front of my eyes. I looked down at myself and saw cleavage and red fabric. I rushed over to the bedroom mirror and saw her image reflecting back at me. “This isn’t real!” My voice was soft and sensual. My hands touched my face and body and I watched the young woman in the mirror do the same.
I heard her voice, but it was in my head. “What did you do to me?”
“I made it so you could survive the night. I told you, everything is transforming around you. You must stay alive past midnight.”
“You turned me into you! A young woman! Why?”
“We have some time now. Please sit down on the bed and I’ll explain everything.” I absentmindedly sat on the bed and looked down beyond my breasts to my long smooth legs. “Good. Now take a deep breath.” I did as she asked and looked back at myself in the mirror. “This is a bit of a long story.”
“I saw you before. I found a picture of you in the basement.”
“Yes. There was a connection made between you and me when you found the photo. You had hoped to see me you said. That’s all I needed to form a bond with you. Listen, this is for your own safety. Had you not trusted me, you’d have been consumed by another entity that is trapped here. You would live your life forever as them, over and over again, every night forever just as I’ve been reliving my life over and over again. If we do this right, you and I might both be free.”
“I’m not sure I understand, but please continue.” I fingered the hem of the red dress with my well-manicured nails as she continued.
“My name is Emeline Strathmore. My father was a wealthy railroad owner and prospector. We used to come here when it first opened and he would arrange business deals. He sent me here in March of 1911 to find a husband and to learn some skills to make me a good wife. During the day I’d cook in the kitchen and at night I was allowed to mingle with the guests. I’d been here a while and my stay was nearly complete. My father paid for me to stay in this very room for my final week before coming home. I never did find anyone I was attracted to as most of the male guests were very unsavory types. I suspected they were connected to the mob. I avoided them at all costs. It was one hundred and five years ago to this day when a summer masked ball was to be held and everyone who was anyone would be here.”
I was feeling so strange in this body. I felt my long hair pressing against my back and the weight of my breasts. I was embarrassed that I was actually sort of turned on by what I saw and felt. “But what does this have to do with me and me now being you?”
“I’ll get to that. And you’re still you, just in my shape. I have no control of the body you now possess. And yes, I enjoyed the feelings of my body just as you are now.” I blushed a bright red. “You seem like a nice person, Chris. I’m sorry for all of this. It just so happens that everything has aligned for us to help each other tonight.”
“I was preparing for the ball and had changed into the outfit you’re wearing now. I put on my mask and went downstairs into the music hall. The festivities were already underway. I was immediately noticed by several men and asked to dance. It was difficult to say no and for the next hour I danced away but I was unhappy with the men. They were very inebriated and were taking liberties with their hands. I finally got a chance to escape and I ran from the music hall. I went outside and I heard the neighing of the horses. It was just what I needed. Cool mountain air to clear my head and I could pet some of the horses at the barn. I knew it would make me feel better.”
“I ran out to the barn, but as I got there I overheard voices. I stayed hidden and listened to them. There were three men and they were arguing. There was a locked box at their feet. ‘It’s all here. Jewelry from the rooms, bonds from the safe, and all the cash I could find. We should leave with it now! We’re set for life.’ It was clear they’d robbed the guests of the hotel. They continued to argue when one man pulled out a gun. ‘We’ll hide the box here and come back when things are much quieter in a month or two.’ The man didn’t argue with a gun to his face and dropped the box into a hole and replaced some wooden boards over top of it. That’s when things went bad. The man with the gun shot the other two. I couldn’t help myself and I let out a scream. The man turned towards me and I ran for all I had.”
“I made it back to the hotel and took my time getting to my room as I wanted to make sure I wasn’t followed. The electricity had failed and they were using gas lanterns to light the hotel. When I got to my room and opened the door the explosion happened. I was thrown into the hallway. Fire and smoke quickly consumed the area and I could no longer breathe. Unfortunately I wasn’t dead when the staff were ordered to bury me in the forest.”
“I’m so sorry. Why would they do that to you?”
“I was very near death and unconscious. I don’t believe they thought I was alive and having worked there I knew the owner’s didn’t want bad press. By hiding the bodies no one would be the wiser and the hotel could maintain that no one got hurt.”
“Ever since that night I relive the same night over and over again. I can’t control my actions. It’s such a horrible existence knowing what I have to live through again and again. I believe the terrible events of murder and death created a supernatural sphere around this hotel. We’re all trapped here.”
“Every June 25 on the anniversary of the explosion our spirits become much stronger and we can interact more with the living guests. Because of your desire to see me, and my additional strength tonight, I was able to give you control of me. With me in you and you transformed as me, we can live this night differently and, it’s my hope that by living tonight differently we can both be free.”
“I still don’t see how this can help either of us.”
“Each June 25 whoever is in this room at the right time are transformed into ones that died here. Four of us were killed in this room when it exploded. There were two maids, the man with the gun, and myself. Perhaps it was because I was buried alive, or perhaps it was something else, but no one has ever transformed into me before. They were only transformed into one of the other three. And when midnight came, their essence was trapped here along with all of us. You were starting to change when I took over your transformation. Your hair was getting longer.”
“So now that I’m you, what happens?”
“With you now controlling me, we can live this night differently. You don’t need to die and be trapped here. Perhaps this will free us both.”
“So let me get this straight. Had you not intervened I would have transformed into one of the maids or the man that died in this room. I would have no control and would have been forced to live the night as them, including their death, and ultimately been trapped here forever?”
“And now that we did a ‘special’ transformation you think I can avoid your death and we can both survive.”
“Why not just transform me back now and I’ll go home?”
“You were already trapped, Chris. I’m sorry. You couldn’t leave the room could you?”
“I’m sorry you have to go through this, but together, perhaps we can change destiny.”
“Okay. I guess the only thing I have to lose is my life.”
“That’s the spirit! Sorry, no pun intended.”
“So how about I just grab my things and we go to my car?”
“You’re car doesn’t exist.”
“What do you mean?” I walked over to the window and pulled the drapes aside. “It’s right…”
“I told you, everything is transforming. You’re now in 1911. The masked ball will start in about an hour.”
I looked outside at the transformed landscape. I saw old cars and horse drawn buggies pulling up to the front of the hotel. People getting out dressed in period attire. “Then we just need to leave here for the night…”
“We can try.”
I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror and shook my head. God, I was beautiful. “If we both make it out of here alive tonight, look me up. I wouldn’t be like those other men. I’d treat you well.” As if I’d ever have a chance with a drop-dead gorgeous woman like this. I cringed at the ‘drop-dead’ analogy.
“Who knows what will happen, Chris? But… I believe you’re right. I think you’re an honorable man and it would please me to get to know you better.”
I smiled and went to leave the room.
“Wait! Don’t forget your purse and room key. They’re in the drawer.”
I looked around the room again and noticed the subtle changes I hadn’t noticed before. There were electric lights, but also backup gas lanterns on the walls. The television was gone and so was my stuff. I opened the drawer and along with fine silk panties was a small red purse. I grabbed it and checked inside. There was a skeleton key, some lipstick, and mascara. “You travel light. I’ve known women to have a purse half the size of a suitcase.”
“I’ve seen them with some of the female guests that stay here. Let’s get out of here.”
I opened the door, surprised it was now working fine and stepped into the hallway. I felt rather self-conscious being in the body of a woman. Now that I was walking more I noticed the sway of my hips and bounce of my breasts. I hurried to the stairs and was surprised to see so many hotel staff everywhere. They all greeted me fondly. I didn’t speak to anyone but walked into the lobby and checked the clock on the wall. Eight o’clock. The music hall was beginning to fill up with people and I saw many people wearing masks. I almost felt like they were watching me. As it was, I was drawing too much attention in this red dress and looking like angel from heaven.
I walked quickly outside and turned left, anxious to get some distance between me and the hotel. “Ms. Strathmore!” Recognizing that was the name I was supposed to respond to, I turned to see a bellhop racing after me. “Ms. Strathmore, you must come inside to the ball!”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay.”
“You can’t leave, Ms. Strathmore. No one ever leaves!”
I turned and walked away as quickly as I could. I approached the edge of the property to see a shimmering light. We were alone so I spoke to Emeline. “What do you think will happen if I cross this line?”
“I’m not sure as I’ve never been here before.”
I stepped over the line and suddenly the world disappeared and I was falling into nothingness. Then it all stopped and I was back in room 217. I shook my head feeling my long blonde hair glide across my back. I stood and looked out the window at the same scene I’d seen before. It was the exact same scene. Same people and same cars and buggies.
“I was afraid of this. We’re trapped here and can’t leave the property.”
“But it did let us get away from the building.”
“Let’s try something different. I think you can speak to me in your head.”
“So what now?” I thought.
“Great, I can hear you. Let’s go someplace else and just stay there.”
I grabbed the purse again and left the room, entering the entryway. In the foyer I turned to look at the clock and it read eight o’clock again. “Time reset.”
“Time has no real meaning here. Let’s go away from the ball and to the bar.”
“A drink sounds wonderful right now.”
“No! Don’t drink! Please! I want us to keep our wits about us tonight.”
“Okay, just water.”
I turned to right and we entered the bar area. The bartender gave me a lustful look and an angry scowl at the same time.
“What can I get you, Ms. Strathmore? You should be at the ball.”
“I’ll go later. Water please.”
I noticed how I sat with my legs crossed just like a woman would. The bartender put a glass of water in front of me. I took a sip and starred at how my lipstick left an imprint on the rim of the glass.
“The people are getting agitated, Chris. They know something is wrong with you. We shouldn’t be here.”
“Thanks for the water.” I stood and walked out of the bar.
“Where can we hide where no one will see us?”
“How about the basement?”
I started walking towards the basement and opened the door and went down the stairs. It was creepy down here. I overheard voices around the corner.
“It’s all planned. When the ball starts in a few minutes we’ll grab the master keys and go through all the rooms. Once we have everything, we’ll cut the power to the building and set off a gas explosion burning the place to the ground. There won’t be any evidence we were here or took anything.”
“Anyone that sees us or gets in the way, dies. Got that?”
I backed up and quietly left the basement. I was closing the door behind me when someone tapped me on the shoulder. “Ms. Strathmore.” It was the front desk clerk and he was not looking pleased at me. “I’ve been told you’re not where you should be. You don’t even have your mask. Take this one and I’ll escort you to the ball.” He handed me a mask and grabbed my arm firmly walking me to the music room where the ball had just started. He left me there with a nod to two burly men by the door. I turned to follow him out when the two men each took a step to the side towards each other and effectively blocked the door.
“Put your mask on, Ms. Strathmore, and join the party.” One of them said.
It was not a request. I slipped the mask on and sidled my way along the wall trying to look inconspicuous. “What’s happening?”
“It seems as though we’re being forced to live through the night as it always has been. Watch out!”
I looked up as a man in a tuxedo with a beaked mask grabbed my hand and dragged me out to the dance floor. “You look stunning and don’t belong standing next to the wall.” His speech was slurred and I could smell both cigar smoke and alcohol on his breath. He pulled me to him firmly and started spinning me around.
“This is horrible!” I said to Emeline in my mind. The man slipped his hands over my butt. I grabbed it and tried to slide away but he held me fast.
“It will only get worse from here on out. I’m sorry, Chris.”
The band finally paused between songs. “It’s hot in here. I’m going to freshen up.”
“You’re staying with me all night!” The man stuttered. I thought about my karate training and wondered if it might work here. I twisted my wrist and broke free of his grasp, kicked him in the groin, which was no small feat in a dress and low heels, then elbowed him in the nose. I watched as he fell to the floor.
“Cool.” I said as I rushed away in the opposite direction from the big guys at the door and slipped out another side door.
“That was amazing, Chris!”
“Let’s help it counts for something!” I ran off into the back gardens and found a bench to sit on. “It’s clear we can change some things. How could you stand being a woman with such little ability to protect yourself from men’s advances?”
“These are not good men. In other places, it’s very civil and men take time to court you properly. There are chaperones and my father would have never let me dance with another man if his intentions were not well defined first. Being a woman is a wonderful thing though. I hope this is not such a hardship for you.”
“Not at all. I’m surprised at myself for feeling as comfortable as I am. I wish I could have been here when this happened to you to somehow prevent you from this nightmare. Perhaps I’d even ask your father if I could court you.”
I felt her blush. “Mr. Dermoty, you flatter me.”
“It’s hardly flattery when you’re the prettiest and nicest woman I’ve ever met.” I heard voices coming close.
“We need to get her back to the ball! I think she went this way.”
I ducked down and realized that wearing a red dress was rather conspicuous, even if it was dark outside. “I don’t understand. How can these people have control and do different things like chase after us?”
“Either our actions have caused this, or, something more sinister is at work.”
“What could be more sinister than being trapped for eternity reliving the same night over and over again?”
“I don’t recognize these men. What if they always existed in this realm, sort of like overseers? Making sure people stay trapped?”
“Sort of like the supernatural police. Well my young padawan, maybe if we go back to the room we can change into some darker clothes.”
“What’s a padawan?”
I smiled realizing Emeline had no context for what I just said. “It’s a very beautiful, charming, and intelligent person.”
“Padawan… I like that.”
I stood and crept down a set of stairs and into the back of the hotel. The ball was in full swing and the music was loud. We snuck upstairs and reached the door to the room. I unlocked the door and stepped inside moving quickly to the closet. All I could see were dresses.
“You don’t have any pants?”
“I’ve never worn pants. They’re for men.”
“I admit, I prefer women in dresses and skirts. They just suit women far better, but a pretty woman in a pair of skinny jeans will stop a man in his tracks.” I reached in and found a black dress. I held it up against me and checked the length. It reached down to my ankles. It would limit movement too much. “Do you have dark stockings?”
“Yes. In the drawer to the right.”
“In the bathroom. What are you planning to do?”
“Watch and learn, my padawan.”
I took the long black dress into the bathroom and found the scissors. I measured the length and started cutting the fabric off below knee length.
“What are you doing to my dress?”
“In the last hundred and five years, have you ever worn it? Besides, if we fail, it’ll be here intact tomorrow night.”
“Well, no, but that’s not the point! That’s an expensive dress!”
“It is, but the length is too long to offer much mobility. If we need to run, we need it shorter. Besides, I think you’ll like the look.”
I stripped out of the red dress and stood transfixed at what I saw in the mirror. “Wow! You’re so gorgeous!”
“Stop staring at me, or I mean you! This is embarrassing. You’re making me feel all warm.”
Sighing, I reluctantly slipped the black dress on then slid up the black stockings up my smooth legs. I hadn’t factored the length very well as the hem was now mid-thigh. I checked myself out in the mirror and had I been a guy at that moment, I would have definitely been very aroused. As it was I was still aroused.
“Do you wear a swimsuit in public?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point! Look at how much of my legs show.”
“There is more covering us up now than when you wear a bathing suit. Besides, it’s my body too, at least at the moment.” I heard a door close down the hall and someone rummaging around in the next room over. “Time to go.”
I slipped on some low heeled black shoes, left the red purse in the drawer knowing I wouldn’t want to come back to the room again. I cracked the door open and looked into the hall. All clear. I was headed back to the stairs when the elevator door opened and one of the burly men grabbed me. “Gotcha.”
“Let me go!”
“You’re going back to the ball, Ms. Strathmore.” He shoved me into the elevator and pinned me to the far wall. He looked lustfully at me and pressed himself close as he pulled the gate and slid the guide to floor one. I heard the grinding of the elevator and was surprised to see confetti on the carpeted elevator floor. His hand touched my thigh and I felt his hot fetid breath against my neck. The elevator door opened and he turned to open the gate. I leaned back against the hand rail and pushed him with both legs sending him sprawling into the foyer. I slammed the gate closed and rang the elevator for the fourth floor.
“That was close.”
“I told you that dress was too revealing. See what happens?”
The door opened and I ran out into the fourth floor hallway. I kept expecting to see a pair of young twin girls at the end one of the hallways as I moved from section to section. Finally I spotted a fire escape door. I ran to it as the burly man huffing and puffing careened into the hall behind me. I looked over my shoulder and watched fearfully as he grabbed a fire axe from the wall. I burst through the exit door and slammed it behind me just as the axe smashed into the door. I half expected a head to pop through the hole and shout “Here’s Johnny!” I didn’t wait to find out and I ran down the rickety wooden stairs.
When I got to the ground I bolted towards the barn. I got there just as I heard two gun shots. I turned and ran back towards the hotel, keeping to the shadows. I squeezed into some bushes and squatted down in the darkness.
“How long do we have?”
“About thirty minutes. We just need to stay away from the room.”
I heard voices and felt they must be from those looking for me. The shooter would likely have gone to straight to the hotel. Come to think of it, that’s probably why he was in room 217, to find Emeline and kill her. The maids were preparing the room could have been in there as well.
“What happens to those people that their essence gets absorbed?”
“I’ve no idea. I don’t see them. I suspect they are possibly in their own supernatural repeated night.”
“As much as I’ve enjoyed my time with you, I’ve no desire to repeat this night again. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day had it easy compared to you.”
“You celebrate groundhogs now?”
I laughed. “I wish you could see what the present is like.”
“I’m happy to just be free, to be able to go beyond this place. No matter what happens, Chris, thank you!”
It had been about fifteen minutes and the hotel lights flickered and went off. I heard shouts to start the backup gas lanterns. Lightning flashed across the sky. I recalled Mary’s story how they believed it was a summer storm that shut down the electricity. The storm was there but it was a long ways away. It must have been the thieves.
A large hand grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the bushes. “She’s here!” I looked around and saw half a dozen men. The front desk clerk, the bell hop, the thugs at the ball.
“Let me go!”
“Don’t you understand? If you don’t die in the explosion, this all ends tonight.” Two men grabbed me and started dragging me towards the hotel.
“Let it end!” I looked into their eyes and I could see red hot fires burning within. “Oh God! This is Hell!”
They merely chuckled. I fought as hard as I could but it didn’t matter. I was dragged to the second floor and they shoved me forward towards the door to room 217. “Open it!”
“I don’t have a key.” They looked at each other dumbfounded. I used the opportunity to race down the hall as fast as I could just as the explosion rocked the hotel. I was thrown down the hallway and a wave of searing heat flashed over me. I staggered to my feet and looked back. The hallway was a mess and people were running around screaming. Men with hoses were running to put the flames out. I coughed and ran further from the fire and smoke, finally getting outside of the hotel.
“You did it, Chris!”
“Maybe… Do you feel any different?”
“Not yet, but then again everything resets at midnight. It’s probably close to eleven now.”
I began walking away from the hotel and when I got to the edge of the property I saw no shimmering light.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“If it resets we try again until we get it right.”
“Remember to look me up on the other side.”
I felt her smile. “I will. We make a good team.”
I laughed. “Maybe if this all ends and we find each other we could make a good team again.”
“You’ve obviously not met my father. Just be prepared to run if you ever ask him to court me.”
I stepped forward and plunged into darkness.
I woke with warm light streaming in through the bedroom window. I yawned and stretched and immediately knew something wasn’t right. Weight on my chest shifted and long blonde hair fell across my face. What happened? Where am I? I climbed out of bed looking down at my feminine features. This wasn’t right, or was it? I was wearing a thin sheer nightgown as I went to look at myself in the mirror.
Emeline Strathmore starred back at me. But I was Chris? Wasn’t I? Suddenly everything came into focus. Yes. Chris Dermoty. That was me. June 25, the Stanley… Emeline. Something changed… I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I was now a young woman, yet it was as if the present had been altered. I was Emeline Strathmore now, sole heir to the Strathmore family fortune. I had my own beachfront home in the Hamptons. I was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. My life as Chris was gone forever and Emeline, the voice in my head was noticeably gone as well. I prayed silently she’d been freed.
I ran my fingers over my face and smiled. At least I was alive and not trapped in some horror film. I went to the bathroom and let my nightgown drop to the ground. I starred at my perfect body. I’d wanted to see this all night. I raised my hand to my breast and moaned slightly at the sensitive touch. I had an excitement building within me. Emeline was free, but as a parting gift she left me her body. Or, perhaps there was no going back to my old body. Either way, I was oddly at peace. I climbed into the shower and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Getting clean was never so fun.
After drying myself off I went to the closet and found a half dozen dresses and a single pair of skinny jeans. I almost burst out laughing. I slipped on the jeans as I had something in mind to do that a dress wouldn’t be suitable for. I went to the mirror and expertly applied a little mascara and lipstick. I grabbed my mid-sized purse and room key and headed down to the front desk.
“How can I help you, Ms. Strathmore?”
“I was wondering if Mary was in today.”
“She is, let me get her for you.”
A few moments later Mary came out and smiled. “So, Emeline. How was your stay last night?”
“I was wondering if you could walk with me for a bit.”
“Can we go to the basement?”
She gave me an odd look but smiled and obliged. “What’s this about?”
“Do you recall our tour yesterday?”
“The picture. Can you show it to me again?”
We moved further into the basement until we came upon the photo. And there I was, well, Emeline in the photo.
“You look exactly like her.”
“I didn’t yesterday.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me tell you a ghost story…”
I shared my story and Mary seemed somewhat unbelieving. “You’re telling me you were Chris Dermoty yesterday?”
“Yes, but I might have a way of proving it even further.” I led her out to the barn. “Please, humor me. Let me go under the barn.”
“All right, but this sounds very strange.”
We opened the trap door and I climbed down to the original barn floor. I dug around in the dust for a while until Mary was getting rather annoyed. “I think this is enough.” Then I found it. I started pulling some of the old heavy boards up. “Ms. Strathmore, you can’t do that!”
Ignoring her I reached into the hole I created and pulled up a box. “I can’t believe it’s still here. Help me get it up into the new barn where there’s more light.” Mary was obviously shaken but helped me with it. We placed it on a bench and I asked permission to open the lock. She nodded, dumbfounded.
I pried open the lock and slowly opened the lid. Inside the box was filled with money, jewelry, and old bonds. Mary whistled and look at me. “It really did happen. You’re telling the truth.” I nodded. She ran her fingers over the items and gasped, pulling out a red ruby bracelet, exactly like the one Emeline had worn in the photo. “I’m guessing this belongs to you. Put it in your pocket and don’t say anything. I need to get this into the hands of our archivists. It’s a wonderful find. Thank you.”
I hugged Mary. “Thank you!”
“My stories will never be the same now.”
“Neither will mine.”
I checked out of the hotel and drove my rental car to Boulder. I had to find out if Chris Dermoty even existed anymore. A sign in the window said ‘room for rent.’ I hesitantly knocked on the door and I recognized the landlady.
“Excuse me, but I was looking for Chris Dermoty. Does he, or did he rent your room?”
“You must have the wrong address. There’s been no Chris Dermoty ever staying here.”
I shook my head sadly and headed back to the car. My old life was gone forever.
Three months later I was walking the beach in front of my home in the Hamptons. I loved every minute of being Emeline and being a woman. I was shocked at the attention this body generated, but I was getting used to it. I found a spot to sit down and stare out over the ocean. I wished I knew what happened to Emeline.
I looked up and into the eyes of my old self. A spark of recognition went between us. “Emeline? Or should I say, Chris?”
He nodded and smiled brightly. “It took me a while to find you. I even had this shirt made to help.”
I looked at his shirt and started laughing. It said “Looking for my padawan.”
I quickly stood and looked back into his eyes, which seemed far more handsome and vibrant than when I was Chris looking in the mirror, but perhaps this was just my new perspective. “What happened to you? I looked for you in Boulder. I searched for you, but I gave up thinking perhaps you had vanished. I prayed you weren’t still trapped.”
“I woke in a house in Palo Alto, California. My, your, startup company is doing very well. Your parents helped seed the funding. You have such wonderful parents. I searched for you too and finally found an Emeline Strathmore in the Hamptons. I thought I’d take the chance and see if it was really you.”
“Wait, you said my parents are alive?”
“Yes. They’re doing wonderful.”
A tear slid down my cheek. “So what now, Mr. Dermoty?”
He stepped forward and gently took my hand in his. “I’d like your permission to court you, Ms. Strathmore.”
“I believe I would like that very much, Mr. Dermoty.”
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