Last year we planned a Hitchcock-themed shoot at the abandoned Sterling Inn on Route 12. Things didn’t work out though when a strange, angry woman appeared out of nowhere, called us ghost hunters, and kicked us off the property. We managed to stage our shoot at an abandoned gas station across the street, but it felt disappointing at best since everything had been designed for the original location. I needed some closure, so I wrote a short story. Seemed perfect for Halloween, so here you go:
The chairs seemed to gather an endless amount of dust. They just couldn’t be cleaned. And it wasn’t just the chairs. No amount of Spackle repaired the crumbly, yellowing walls and every season had brought with it a new unlocatable leak. No roofer would return her calls, no vacuum cleaner was up to the task. The inn, under her loving care for 50 years, appeared doomed.
There were rumors it was haunted, that there had been a murder. She didn’t believe any of it. Her family had built the Grand Lady in 1908 and she’d lived there her whole life. It was, inside and out, her inn and nothing had ever happened there without her noticing. But the line of well-appointed automobiles with well-dressed ladies and gentleman toting fine leather luggage had long ago been replaced by a once-a-month-or-so appearance of a full car of gawkers, often lugging with them all sorts of strange equipment that buzzed and blinked, and was generally a huge nuisance. They weren’t interested in trying her award-winning Chicken à la King, or sleeping in one of the original Stickly-made cherry wood beds. They just sat in the parking lot, staring. Taunting her. Taunting her failure.
She knew she had not done her inn justice. But was it really her fault? What had changed? It was an endlessly frustrating question, with infuriating answers. Too many times she had excitedly run outside to greet new guests, only to have them ignore her, take photos, and leave. This had gone on so long she had almost given up on her initial cordiality altogether, losing her temper ever more quickly with each passing car. The once well-mannered, welcoming hostess was now but a distant memory. On more than one occasion she hadn’t even remembered to introduce herself.
The first thing they noticed was the dust. “Do you think that’s real Stickley furniture?” she asked, nose pressed against the cold glass of the first floor. “Why wouldn’t you sell that off?”
They had been interested in the property for years. It was a part of their daily commute, and when they had seen the For Sale sign go up, they knew it was at least a chance to see the inside.
“You do realize,” he told her, “that this place would make a horrible home. It’s listed as having three dining rooms. We can’t even handle our one bedroom apartment. We’d never be able to keep it clean.”
“I just want to see. It seems so sad watching it crumble away like this.” The wrap-around porch was covered with ivy and bittersweet, obscuring what was likely a once very attractive view of the driveway. “It’s just wrong. A place like this is never supposed to be this empty.” The realtor was late.
“Didn’t we say 11?”
“Pretty sure. What time is it?”
She stared into the glow of her phone. “11:20”
“She probably got wrapped up in another appointment. It’s fine. Let’s scope out the back.”
They wandered around as best they could without a scythe to cut away the brush. “I almost like the plants covering it like this. Very surreal.” She imagined it full of people again, a vegetable garden in the back. Painters and writers arguing over the meaning of life. “We could advertise it to artists.”
“Artists would never come here.” It was not her husband’s voice that had replied. Suddenly behind her was a woman she was never able to describe. At first she remembered her as fat, then thin, old then young. Her hair was long and gray, but also short and brown, and her clothes made even less of a lasting impression.
“Oh hello!” She said, waiving off a strange chill. “ We’re the Walkers. We’re here to see the property. Are you Ann?”
“Are you folks planning to stay at the inn?” The woman did not even bother to introduce herself and her question came off as more than slightly snippy. The couple snickered at the thought.
“Well, not tonight, maybe if we could fix it up and…”
“This is private property. You need to leave right now. I’ve already called the police.” The slight snippiness had been replaced with an outright aggressive tone, though the couple had no idea what had warranted such a timbre.
“I’m sorry, I think you misunderstood us, we’re interested in buying the…”
“This inn is not and never has been for sale. You two are going to need to get into your little car and get the hell off of my property.” The couple looked at each other alarmed. They knew they had not imagined the For Sale sign, they were staring right at it. She noticed. “A mistake. It was meant for the gas station across the street.”
“If we could just wait for Ann…”
“No.” It was a cold no, with no room for argument. “You will not be waiting for Ann or anyone. I’ve reported your license plate as trespassing, and if you don’t leave right now…”
They were confused. And the wind had shifted, almost pulling them toward the parking lot, toward the street. The man mumbled “we’ll just call Ann from the road and try to figure this out, but let’s gooo….” His wife reluctantly agreed, though she had the sinking feeling that her vision of serving painters and writers local grass-fed meatloaf with greens from the inn’s vegetable garden would amount to nothing more than a happy idea. They drove off, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust in their wake.
Here are the photos from the gas station-
- Date: Sunday September 20th, 2015
- Location: Sterling, MA
- Photography: Kayt Silvers and TJ Bynes
- Hair, makeup: Holly Daigle
- Wardrobe styling: Kayt Silvers
- Model: Alyssa Van Liere @Maggie Inc.