Saturday, August 8, 2015

THE HOUNDS OF ELKHORN by Bruce P. Grether, Prologue: Winter 1983-4

Winter, 1983-4

Caretaking with good intentions can lead to some deeply disturbing discoveries, such as things that seem impossible. In this case it began with a single light burning within an immense old building that had been carefully closed up and locked for the season, with its electrical power turned off. Crisp mountain air stood still and quiet about Paul Goodfellow that night, yet a wave of foreboding hit him like a sudden gust of icy wind.

He had dreaded something like this for months, and now his peaceful existence felt violated.

He stood below the dark outline of the magnificent old two-story building saturated by antique secrets and untold stories, and he gazed up at that singularly ominous glow. Hands thrust deep into his coat pockets for warmth, a frown knit his brow: it appeared that a dim light bulb burned behind the tattered curtains of an upstairs room in the north wing of Elkhorn Lodge.

This huge main building of the complex, and all of the cabins had been carefully closed up for the winter, and Paul lived in a smaller, older building of year-round apartments to the east along the driveway. This winter, in return for a reduction in his rent, he kept an eye on the entire place for the owner, who did not fully trust the local manager of the property to watch over it effectively. That was another story in itself.

Now Paul’s heart sank. Someone is in the main lodge! Or someone has been inside and messed with the breaker switches and left a light on. If the wiring malfunctions, it could start a fire

The young man’s horn-rimmed glasses fogged over from his warm breath, a condition he humorously called “Clark Kent’s heavy breathing technique.” Only now there seemed nothing funny about the serious responsibility he had accepted. He was told the electricity to the main building was turned off entirely. Could Mr. Treadwell have forgotten to turn it off and left the light on in November when he departed for North Carolina? No. Paul would have noticed. Not likely, unless it had been covered and an old rotten window shade had broken and fallen to reveal the fact…

That’s how his imaginative mind worked—only he knew that to be unlikely, though many things inside the old building were indeed falling apart.

The only other options were a human intruder, or ghosts. He did not dismiss the fact that the old Edwardian structure, built in 1913, was filled with memories and the traces of countless visitors, which made it seem highly haunted, still he felt far more concerned at the moment about vandals and vagrants who might have broken in. And though his life here at the lodge property off-season was usually peaceful and quiet, now his heart hammered fiercely in his chest.

Enough ambient moonlight shone from behind the cloud cover, that he did not even take the little flashlight from his coat pocket as he marched around the building. He tried to keep his hiking boots from crunching too loudly upon ice and frozen soil. His eyes scanned for any evidence of where anyone might have broken in, and the big building was large enough and intricate enough and remained dark enough that he really could not tell for sure.

There were few lights anywhere in this pocket of night at the western end of Estes Park, Colorado, the resort village steeped in its dreams. Though he sought to carefully inspect the windows, and even the base of the structure for any disruption or damage, he walked rather quickly to get the job done, passing along the lengthy front of the two connected wings with their ornate trim and the three spacious verandas on both the upper and lower levels.

He hastened to avoid the sense that the building itself watched him passing by.

In truth, he also almost hoped his sounds would alert any intruder, that they might flee unseen, as he actually had no desire to confront a stranger here at this late hour, much less a ghost.

Wind lifted its voice and sighed heavily on the evergreen slopes to the south of the main building, where shuttered cabins kept their eyes closed in the shadows of ponderosa pines. Paul passed behind the open area at the back of the two wings, where an old wishing well had collapsed into itself, and when he returned to the north side, the light upstairs was out. He had seen no sign of a break-in.

So—do I call the Treadwells, or not?

He had mixed feelings about this: it definitely indicated some kind of presence in the main lodge that he would really rather not know about.

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