My new ghost story trilogy (the third, Happy Medium is now available from Berkley Intermix at Amazon and Barnes and Noble) takes place in a very spooky place: the King William District of San Antonio. San Antonio itself is full of places that are supposed to be haunted—I mean, the Alamo is in the center of downtown SA. The Menger Hotel is right across the street from the Alamo and boasts several well-known ghosts, including Teddy Roosevelt (who recruited the Rough Riders there during the Spanish American War). The Spanish Governors Palace has a haunted fountain. The Majestic Theatre has some performance-loving ghosts. And that’s just downtown.
But there are other haunted places that aren’t what you’d expect. For a couple of years, the hubs and I stayed at a motel in Nebraska on the way home from Iowa after Christmas. It was really large, with an indoor pool and a convention center, yet it usually seemed more than half empty, although that could have been the time of year. I’d head down to the lobby for a cup of coffee in the morning since I always wake up before the hubs does, and I’d frequently get the creeps. Something about it—above and beyond the fact that most of the lights had been turned off—made me feel uneasy. Then one day I was stumbling around the Internet, looking for something else, and I found that motel listed under Haunted Hotels. I was sort of shocked, but not exactly.
Some of this is expectation, of course. I’ve wandered around the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, and it’s predictably spooky. But the management at the Stanley really wants you to feel that way—they even do ghost tours. So it’s not surprising that you feel a bit of a creep when you go inside.
To me, what’s scarier is the place you didn’t expect to feel creepy at all. The historic building that suddenly has you looking over your shoulder. The boutique hotel where you discover you don’t really want to check out the lower story after all. The small town main street that makes you want to keep driving. Are these places haunted? Who knows? They’re certainly haunting you!
That’s what happens to my hero in Happy Medium. Ray Ramos a carpenter who specializes in historic home renovations, but the mansion he’s working on in the King William District of San Antonio turns out to need more repairs than he anticipated. When he rents the house to a television medium for a fake séance, all he expects is a quick payoff. But the first test séance he takes part in with the medium and her assistant (my heroine, Emma Shea) shows him a lot more is happening than he bargained for.
Here’s a quick taste:
“Join hands everyone,” Gabrielle intoned in her most resonant medium voice.
Ramos gave her a piercing look, then took hold of her hand, extending his other hand across the table to Emma.
Gabrielle’s fingers were faintly damp, but Ramos’s were dry and hard. His calluses rubbed against Emma’s palm. For a moment she felt something like a mild electric shock tingle through her fingers. She pulled her hand away, staring.
Ramos stared back, his eyes wide.
“Take his hand, Emma.” Gabrielle frowned. “We need to get on with this.”
Emma extended her hand again, touching her fingers cautiously against Ramos’s palm. Nothing. Maybe she’d imagined the whole thing. Probably she’d imagined the whole thing.
Gabrielle raised her head, gazing up into the dim shadows overhead. “Is there anyone here? We call on you to come forth.”
Across from Emma, Ramos rolled his eyes. He had that sour look again. Just hold on a little longer, and we’ll be out of your way.
“Come forth,” Gabrielle whispered.
Ramos looked at her, then shook his head slightly.
And the candles went out.
Emma’s head shot up, and she turned toward the fireplace. There hadn’t been any flickering, any feeling of a breeze. One moment the candles had been burning, and now they weren’t. She gaped at Ramos, who was gaping back at her, his forehead furrowing. Somewhere overhead a door slammed.
At the head of the table, Gabrielle seemed not to notice. “Spirit forces, we call to you,” she crooned.
Something touched the back of Emma’s neck, a quick brush, so light she wasn’t sure she’d felt it. Then it came again, more definite this time, fingertips along the edge of her shoulder. She whipped her head to the right, but she couldn’t see anything in the gathering darkness.
Ramos’s hand jerked against hers. She turned back to him, but he was watching Gabrielle.
No, not Gabrielle. Beyond Gabrielle, toward the fireplace. The mantle glowed dimly in the twilight, as if there were lights beneath it. Then, one by one, the votive candles thumped to the hearthstone in front of the fireplace, bouncing lightly. Another door slammed upstairs.