J. Carson Black, New York Times bestselling crime fiction author of the Cyril Landry Thrillers, shares an exclusive short story with us based on real life encounters with ghosts while doing research for her books in New Mexico.
DON’T MESS WITH JESSICA – ER, REBECCA
A True Ghost Story By J. Carson Back
The scenic old hotel outside the town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is proud of its resident ghost, Rebecca, a parlor maid who came to a bad end. In fact, if you go to their website, the literature boasts, “The Lodge Resort at Cloudcroft: It’s ‘Charmed.’”
It’s charmed, all right. The place (burned to the ground in 1909 and resurrected in 1911) is haunted by a winsome red-headed chambermaid—with one hell of a vicious backhand. I admit I didn’t take her seriously when Glenn, my husband, and I dined at the Lodge’s restaurant, Rebecca’s. I got her name wrong and called her “Jessica,” a few times.
In fact I thought it was funny.
The old lodge has some neat stuff, including a romantic tower—its four sides made of old glass, accessed by a tight stairway and an old-fashioned key. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent time there. You can look down over the canopy of pine right down to the White Sands of New Mexico.
The pool’s cool, too--very 1920s. After a dip, I sat on a chaise and for a few moments watched the late afternoon sun glint off the diamond on my wedding ring—refracting at turns royal blue, green, yellow, orange, and ruby-red.
I really shouldn’t have called Rebecca “Jessica.”
Twelve midnight on the dot—a loud bang sent my husband and I bolt-upright in bed. The radio blasted gibberish from the bedside table. Tinny voices jabbered on the TV, which was up-all-the-way loud, the screen fuzzy black and white with wavering images in black and gray dots.
“What do you bet it’s a prank?” one of us—maybe both of us—said.
Glenn tried to turn off the TV and I tried to turn off the radio. They both kept blaring. Finally, we pulled the electric cords—
Not that we slept very well. The next morning I asked the two young women at the check-in desk if someone had played a prank on us. They gave me a look that said, “Oh, oh.” They swore the hotel wouldn’t do anything like that, and any employee who would---well, they wouldn’t be kept around very long. Paying guests were paying guests.
As we carried our bags outside, I said to Glenn, “Prank. Definitely.”
The drive down the mountain to Alamogordo is precipitous, narrow and winding. The view from the road is a steep drop-off, a deep ravine, and toothy rocks. There’s even a tunnel. Mountain driving doesn’t make either one of us nervous, but abruptly I found myself thinking of Shirley Jackson’s horror masterpiece, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I remembered the woman driving away from the haunted house (thinking she’d made a clean getaway) suddenly wrestling for control of her car with… something, after which she crashed into an oak tree and was killed.
All the way down the mountain I had that awful feeling: what if Rebecca was still mad?
We made it to the valley floor in one piece. At the foot of the mountain, in the town of Alamogordo, we stopped for gas. I sat in the car and reflected how silly I’d been to think of a red-headed, thin-skinned ghost haunting us just because I’d called her “Jessica.” Of course the TV and radio were rigged. It was just a prank.
About that time I glanced down at my hand--
At the empty socket where my diamond had been.
It was gone.