It’s just a quick drive through Powell River but in the Pacific northwest coast’s drenching rain it seems an eternity. It’s a clenching cold rain that drowns daylight, drives people off the streets at mid-day to seek refuge in artificial light and coffee.
I was slumped in my seat knowing this was not going to be a fun weekend.
Our destination, The Old Courthouse Inn, wasn’t a particularly notably building. It was “old” within the context of this pulp town’s lifetime and faux tudor in design. There was a note of pleasant with a soupçon of forced twee. We soon learned it was, as the name suggests, the original courthouse and jail for Powell River.
People can be haunted by memories or by the anticipation of a memorable event. Even in grade school we can find ourselves touched by the experience of bullies and the sure knowledge those ice hearted thugs will track us down again–one at a time.
Places can be haunted by the memories of people who have passed. I was not one to go in for ghosts and psychic events. Other than the movies like The Haunting – the original black and white, by far the superior in its emotional tension – I have never found myself sensitive to the residents of the spectral spectrum.
As we dragged our suitcases across the parking lot and up the protesting stairs – old wood really has a voice of it’s own – my mind was still on a confrontation I knew awaited me the next day. My resolution was that it would not go as it had in the past. My instinct was it would.
Just through the door, to the left past the stairs was a curtain separating the main hall from another corridor. An unremarkable curtain of heavy green velvet but something about it pulled my attention away from the carpet. A feeling passed through me, just enough to shake me out of my dismal contemplations—little more than a shiver, really. It was a feeling the curtain was there to protect any innocent stumbling through, to prevent an accidental disturbance of what lay beyond.
After unpacking we arranged to meet up with the man who had organized the weekend event. An evangelist of craft beer, he had moved from the big smoke of Vancouver, where any corner not occupied by a major coffee seller was claimed by a craft brewery.
Our friend accepted the challenge of bringing the craft beer gospel to a northern coastal logging town. Home of the lager loggers. Like all good apostles he turned several lambs from the path of mass produced sin to set their feet on the road to the promised land of real ales.
Part of his success was timing. Another group of fanat—er, devotees had set up a brewery against all odds and bankers advice, just up the hill from the pulp mill in good ol’PowTown. Yee haw.
Between them, the force majeure of our friend and the proof of his mission, locally made very good beer, a new festival was born. This weekend a select few craft brewers from the heart of darkness, and from the tea tinted heart of proper, were making the trek in supporting the local scene and generating some more converts.
The social night went well. It was great to unwind with a good friend and forget for a few moments that tomorrow promised the meeting with Cassius and company. Every organization starts with people who are great to party with and ends up attracting others who test the patience of the poor schmuck who didn’t step back fast enough when volunteers for leader were called.
Just as we were making our goodbyes to waddle back down the road to our room, our friend made a joke, a casual remark about the haunting nature of our hotel.
Such a statement is viewed by some of us as a challenge to research. Some of us should leave well enough alone and not surf the net for any reason. Stories of the still confined residents in the long gone cells downstairs. Of the daughters of the jailor who still like to play with anyone who stays in their former private quarters. Yes, just to the left of the stairs as you walk in. Behind that curtain.
The cells had been in the basement directly below our room and we were sleeping where the police officers mustered around a hot stove drinking well boiled tea. Or maybe it was the courtroom. I don’t really remember. The important thing is the kids were supposed to be down the hall and that they were supposed to stay there.
My hubby has spent a goodly part of his working life traveling. He has a set going-to-bed ritual of a hot bath, a cold local beer followed by watching local news.
I was in my jim-jams and tucked in by the time my dearest had towelled off. I was back to being haunted by visions of the schoolyard reckoning to come. All I wanted was to take a pill, hook up the CPAP and go to sleep. (As a side note for those of you giggling at the seductive image of an old lady in a CPAP mask, let me assure you, after 25+ years of marriage, my dearest’s disappointment over the nightly transition of sexy lady to scuba girl is more than made up for by not having to sleep beside a freight train.)
I sleep on my back—this detail is important—with legs straight and feet pointing up. Yes, fold my hands across my chest and it’s a good thing there’s a machine to remind everyone I’m still breathing. In strange beds I tend to drift awake, fuddle out where I am and where the bathroom is before dragging back down to sleep.
It’s like knowing where the exits are on the plane. Don’t intend to use ‘em but my ‘Do Bee a Safety Bee’ needs to know just in case.
So I drifted awake, oriented myself and closed my eyes again, ready for a gentle fade back to the sleep. And that was when I felt a hand clamp firmly onto my right foot. Like a playful child creeping up to peer over the bed . Like she wanted to play this little piggy…with all the piggies…at once. The hand held on just long enough to soak every cell of my body in sweat and adrenalin.
I knew it wasn’t my fun loving husband because he was snoring in bed beside me. My legs immediately pulled back. Now wide awake but eyes squeezed shut, I pulled the covers over my head, flipped on my right side assuming the classic foetal position. With cramping feet and fingers, I somehow paddled across the endless stretch of bed until I was plastered up against my oblivious husband’s back.
Then there was a tap on my shoulder through the covers. Just a gentle pressure repeated a few times: a ‘come on, it’s time to play’ little push. I never knew just how tight the foetal position could get but I swear my knees were pressing on my eyes.
It was at least an hour before I loosened up enough to come within range of sleep. The next morning I was greeted with a smile and “my, weren’t you cuddly last night”…Over breakfast I told him what had happened. I commend him now on his restraint and not falling on the floor while laughing.
The beer festival was across the street and well underway when I found myself watching the Southern Cabal make their entrance. Initially they were every bit as threatening as expected but after marinating in the miracle that craft beer hath wrought, their mood lightened. As we slowly circled the room, maneuvering the final approach it seemed the beer was brighter, the people warmer and I simply had no fear left.
A lane opened up with me a few feet behind the leader of the pack. I’m a firm believer in one thing: when in doubt let a child take the lead. Taking a deep breath I smiled, tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, I said “Boo” and handed him a beer token. Then walked off to visit with some more friends.