I’m upstairs in my room. I’ve worked at the Frolic for a few months. Earned the respect of the boss and the rest of the staff. It’s late. Micah leaves after cleaning the restaurant. No one is here at this hour. I swing down into the restaurant through a trap door I found in the floor of my room. I don’t think anyone knows about it. Dark spaces frighten some people, but not me. Anyway, it isn’t pitch-dark. The pilot lights from the Wolf ranges radiate with an eerie glow. Surreal patterns scatter around the kitchen walls.
In the dining room moonlight filters in through the windows, front and back. I sit in the middle, away from the light and wait. This is an experiment. Rafan told me ghosts inhabit the building. I don’t think there is such a thing as ghosts, but I’m curious. I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word ghost is.
A few weeks ago I tried the same experiment in the coffee shop. A big round Prince Albert advertising tin sits above the front door to the restaurant. Micah says the ghost of Prince Albert floats around that area of the coffee shop at night. He tells me he sees it when he’s cleaning. He laughs when he sees my reaction. The night I tried I didn’t see anything.
The boss tells me Shirley Martin speaks about a poltergeist that haunts the area between the bathroom, kitchen and living room of the house next door. Hawley and Shirley Martin were the previous owners of the Frolic and they lived in that house with their four kids. The boss says Shirley told him objects sometimes fly across the room and that she hears odd noises at night. I say she was probably just pulling his leg. I hear she likes to joke around. He dismissed the whole thing just like me.
There are ghost stories all over this town. Something odd supposedly happened at the barn on the corner of Lansing and Main streets, the place locals call the Ex-Lax building because of a commercial painted on the building for a movie. At one time a blacksmith worked there named Dave McDougall. McDougall helped Hawley build the Cellar Bar. They found the bar behind another bar in Fort Bragg and took it to Mendocino in pieces to be reassembled.
McDougall told Hawley the phone jumped off the hook, hovered in the air and rang. At the same time the fire siren went off. This happened more than once and still happens. Finally McDougall became so bothered by it that he left town. He didn’t even take his tools.
A retired schoolteacher named Laing Chambers lived in the apartment above the barbershop across the street from the Frolic. The locals say that whenever Laing Chambers stood at the window the fire siren would go off. That fire siren is weird. I’ll vouch for that. I sleep only a few yards away from it. Laing Chambers liked to eat Graveyard Stew when she came to the Frolic—buttered toast in a bowl with cinnamon and sugar drenched in milk. Graveyard Stew is not on the menu but the cooks made it for her. There was a Laing Special on the menu—plain hamburger patty with cottage cheese and vegetables. Laing died and someone else lives in her apartment now. You can’t predict when the fire siren will go off anymore. There are a lot of menu items named after locals.
I don’t believe the ghost stories but here I am in my chair in the dark waiting for something, I don’t know what. Sometimes you go a bit crazy around here.
Wide awake. Senses on high alert. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I see the outlines of the tables and chairs around me. The room is empty. At least I think it is.
Then I see it above the corner table, the spot the waitresses call the “L”. What I see is the head of an Indian glowing on the wall. He has a large nose, a narrow forehead and eyes that are barely visible under some odd cap. A drooping feather sticks out the back. The wall lights up like a psychedelic sunrise in blues, reds, yellows and greens. I rub my eyes in disbelief but there it is. I sure do see it.
“Hello,” I say nervously.
He doesn’t move. I think it must be a holograph. I look around the room to see what might be the cause, but there is nothing to explain it. I feel foolish but I speak again not knowing what it is that I speak to.
“Who are you? What are you? What are you doing here?” I am afraid he will disappear if I move closer to get a better look. So, I stay put.
“Why are you here?” he asks. He sounds like he’s far away.
I wonder, what kind of deception is this? I put my hands over my eyes. All goes black and then blobs and patterns form on a dark background. Even with my eyes closed, I can make out the outlines of his head on the wall.
He speaks to me again. There is no doubt this time. This is real.
“I have come out of the wood where I’ve been a prisoner. What about you?”
I am both shocked and frightened but my curiosity gets the best of me.
“What kind of prisoner?” I ask.
“My spirit was locked in the wood. So was yours long ago. You escaped. Your coming here has released my spirit.”
“What are you?”
“I am what I am.”
“How were you trapped in the wall?”
“My people call me Chief Thunderbolt.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My people were slaughtered along with the trees and the animals. My angry shouting became the thunder. The howling of my people against the injustices of the world became the rain. The lightening that preceded me on my journey home started a fire. I got lost in the smoke and was absorbed into the wood used to make this building.”
Whatever it was disappears. I see only chairs and a table in the corner against an empty wall. I have no idea what happened. I’m not convinced I saw and heard what I think I did. Something happened but it’s a mystery. I think I was hallucinating. I climb back up to my room and go to sleep. Later, when I wake up, I decide I was probably dreaming. But, I need to make sure.
I dress and climb downstairs determined to figure it out. Dawn breaks. Dark clouds form in the sky. Soon the employees will arrive. The smells and sounds of the restaurant will change everything. I hurry to get to the bottom of what happened before it’s too late. I return to where I saw whatever it was that I saw. I see only chairs, table, wall.
It grows very dark in the dining room. There is a brilliant flash. Thunder arrives with great force followed by sheets of rain that hammer the windows. I shiver. I hear wood snap, water rush. Then all turns to silence, to calm. My stomach growls. I’m hungry.
I can’t stop thinking about what happened. I need to tell someone. I decide to tell Rafan when he comes to work.
“I think I saw a ghost or a spirit of some kind Rafan,” I say. “Of course, I don’t really think there is such a thing but I had this strange experience.”
“Once I met an old man while hiking in the woods,” says Rafan. “He said something strange then bounded into the thick underbrush.”
“What are you saying Rafan, that you saw a ghost?”
“The Wood Sprite,” he says with that look he gets when he knows he’s got me.
“What,” I say.
“What?” I’m confused.
“The Russian author,” Rafan says, “you know, you have a book of his stories in your room.”
“That’s Myrna’s book. I haven’t read it.” I’m feeling out-matched.
“It’s his first story and one of the most important.”
“Are you saying you saw a Wood Sprite Rafan?”
“Maybe,” grins Rafan.
“You’re not serious?” I say.
“Quite serious,” he says. “Allah moves in mysterious ways.”
“I can’t fathom this,” I say exasperated.
“Wood Sprite is just the name Nabokov gives the character in his story,” says Rafan. “Sounds like you saw one all right. What did he say?”
“You first, what did yours say to you?”
“Something very cryptic,” says Rafan. “A line from a poem.”
And how the sprites of injured men shriek upward from the sod.
“Mine was gone before I could quiz him,” I say. I feel uneasy. I know Rafan sees it.
“I shouldn’t tell you this Mac, but they say if you are visited by a wood sprite your life is about to change.”
“How can you believe such nonsense,” I say, but I’m not at all sure it’s nonsense.
“People believe strange things, man. Look,” says Rafan, “I don’t have time to discuss this now. I have to go to work.”
“Okay,” I say. I’m even more ill at ease now. I wish I hadn’t told him. Whatever happened today, it was just my imagination out of control. I’m sure of that. I think.