You need to breathe. Help is coming. Everyone stay calm. Someone is coming for us.
But the water rises, and the door is locked, and the pregnant woman still wails. Amid the screaming, there’s a lone child who cries for her mother. Whitney looks around in a panic.
“Where is your mommy?” she asks the small girl. The child shakes her head but stares at the stairwell below them, an area where floodwaters quickly rise. “Is she down there? What’s her name? What is she wearing?”
The girl continues to cry.
Between the lone child, the pregnant woman, and the dozens of tourists who need her help, Whitney cannot freeze. She pushes her way to the door and uses her key card to open it. She’s met with howling wind and torrential downpour. The gale drags her out of the building, knocking her onto her knees. It’s not safe out here either, but it’s their best chance at being seen.
As she ushers the people out on to the roof, the little girl stays put, still screaming for her mother.
Without thinking, Whitney tells the girl, “Just stay here, I’ll go find her.”
As she runs downstairs, into the darkness, she has no idea who she’s looking for. Or how high the water is. She rushes down two flights of stairs before splashing into knee-deep water. Now that the power is out, emergency back up lights glow red across the watery blackness ahead of her. Except for the wailing storm outside, the resort is silent. Her chest tightens as she realizes there’s nowhere else to go. Looking at the stairs above her, she cries helpless tears, unable to push forward.
So she stands still and waits.
“Someone is coming for us,” she repeats, until the water rises past her hips, submerging her chest, up her neck. Blackness fills her mouth. “Someone is coming for us.”
Her eyes spring open and she gulps air until she knows the blackness is only the night. She’s in her bedroom. In her grandmother’s B&B. In New York. She’s safe. There wasn’t a lone little girl at the resort… where did that dream come from? And who called her name from the watery depths? She looked around her dark room.
When someone, something calls your name… you don’t answer them. That’s what her grandmother taught her. Don’t talk them in.
Her eyes dart to the ceiling above her bed, trained on the noises coming from the second floor.
Whitney squeezes her eyes shut and quietly mutters her words. “‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree…’”
Right above her, the noise pauses. She turns to the green neon light of her digital clock. 3:00 am “‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure-dome decree,’” she whispered again, and continued until the clock changed, until her breathing slowed, until the noises stopped. “‘Where Alph, the sacred river, ran / through caverns measureless to man / down to a sunless sea.’”
She is safe.
Someone is coming for them.
“Black folks aren’t supposed to live in haunted houses,” Whitney Beck shouted over the sound of her sister’s vacuum. While Helen Beck cleaned the mansion’s keeping room, she fluffed the pillows of the great room, anxious to get on to her next task: pulling bedding from the dryers.
Helen cut the vacuum off and dragged it to the entry hall. “I know you didn’t just say that,” she huffed. “First of all, we are both Black and living in a haunted house. Second, don’t buy into the lack of representation in pop culture.”
Whitney didn’t want to argue with her little sister. It was Helen who bought into all the hocus pocus, not her. Helen, who had called the goofy television show, Ghost Punters, to drive out the supposed spirit from their late grandmother’s B&B.
Whitney had only wanted to settle into the tiny town of Pardon, New York, run her own business, and forget the traumatizing Miami hurricane from last year. But the noisy spirit who lived on the second floor wouldn’t let her be great. Had she known what her grandmother had dealt with while owning the Tremblay Mansion, renamed The Bordeaux Bed and Breakfast, she probably wouldn’t have signed the bequeathment documents.
“You’re just nervous,” Helen said, following her into the laundry room. Together, they pulled sheets from the dryers and folded them.
“Pinch the corners,” Whitney said as they stretched a fitted sheet.
“I know,” her sister replied, a grin spread over her face. “We’ve folded enough of these over the last couple months.”
“Three months,” Whitney said. It was the amount of time they’d lived together in Pardon. Five months since Ernestine Bordeaux’s funeral. Six months since the Miami hotel she managed was destroyed in Hurricane Beatrice.
Whitney was good at lists, dates, and planning.
The memories made her heart kick into an anxious gallop.
“Just admit you’re nervous about seeing him this weekend,” Helen said, still smiling.
“Your high school crush is gonna be walking all over the property, filming you, all tall, dark, and handsome-like.”
She had to excuse her bubbly sister. Helen didn’t know how she ranked her anxieties. The cinematographer who just so happened to work with Ghost Punters did make her nervous, but the thought of ruining her grandmother’s prized B&B through incompetence was more important than men now. She hoped the show wouldn’t make a mockery of Ernestine’s legacy. Whitney needed her customers to return and for this whole business venture to work out.
She took a breath as she met sheet corners with Helen. While they folded the laundry and set it aside, she continued intentional breathing until her heart stopped pounding against her ribs. “I am nervous about seeing Deon,” she admitted. “It’s been a couple years.”
“I honestly didn’t know he was working with Ghost Punters.” Helen said, her smile dipping with sympathy. “It’s my favorite show, and I love Bill Duke so much.”
Whitney couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up her throat. It felt good to laugh about something. She’d been so serious for the past few months, only smiling to greet the few guests they’d had. “If you think this stunt will help the B&B,” she said. “But Bill Duke is a fool, and his show is terrible. It has to be fake.”
“I don’t think it is!” Helen cried. “That episode I showed you—the house in Toledo? It’s his scariest case to date. And there were other paranormal researchers who verified the house,” she continued, “Bill and his medium drove the spirit out. There is like, no ghost in Toledo now.”
“Just the ghost of manufacturing,” Whitney quipped.
“Even if you don’t believe in ghosts like Grand-Mère did, there’s a good chance the show will put us on the map,” Helen reasoned. “People are going to want to come here to experience something.”
This was exactly what Whitney feared.
She’d worked in hospitality long enough to know how tenuous the industry was. She didn’t want to be dependent on a ghost legend. Pardon, New York, didn’t market itself on ghost legends. Not when Sleepy Hollow was in the same state. Pardon was situated near Lake Ontario, it was idyllic and quaint, good for fishing and camping in the summer, even better for skiing in the winter. Whitney wanted to be a part of that normal kind of tourism. Up here, in the wilderness, the only danger was supposed to be the occasional snowstorm and black bears.
But another part of her didn’t want to disappoint her little sister, who was never good at following the family credo: Don’t talk about the spirits. Giving them a voice, their grandmother insisted, only fueled their trickster ways. Whitney had heard the noises, had felt the temperature changes, but she didn’t want to believe. Believing meant that the business was officially out of her control. You can’t be a B&B manager while tiptoeing around the mansion’s true owner. “We’ll just see what they find,” Whitney said.
“And you’ll be cool around Deon?” Helen asked.
She glanced at her sister and smirked. “The same way you’re cool around Rob Myer?”
Helen straightened the strap of her denim overalls as they completed another fitted sheet. She smoothed back her sweat-frizzed curls, identical to Whitney’s, and leaned against the folding table. “What does Rob have to do with this conversation?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Every time we go to his hardware shop you get all giggly and forget what a screwdriver is.”
“That’s how I flirt,” Helen argued. “But I’m not in love with him.”
Whitney pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “And I am not in love with Deon Grant. The fact that he’s filming this shit doesn’t bother me in the slightest. He’s here to do his job before moving on to the next job.”
Her sister’s dark brown eyes roved over her face before replying, “I really thought he was still working for TLN.”
“He moved to the Travel Network two years ago,” Whitney snapped. Her face went hot the second Helen’s smiled widened. “Shut up,” she muttered as she dove into the dryer. She busied herself with a pillowcase as Helen laughed.
“If this is what unbothered looks like, lemme find out!”
“Okay, I only know that because—”
“You follow your crush’s filming career.”
Whitney’s mouth snapped shut as she tossed aside her pillowcase. “Fine.”
“Fine, what?” Helen goaded.
She pulled an armload of bedding from the dryer and kicked the door shut. “Sometimes I follow him on Facebook and Twitter.”
“Are you going to pick up where you left off in New York?” Helen asked.
“Are you finally going to ask Rob out?” Whitney deflected. “You should have him ‘come by for repairs’ in the spring.”
“What needs repairing?”
“Girl, I don’t know,” Whitney said. “Just break some shit.”
When Helen didn’t reply, Whitney glanced at her sister, who appeared to be seriously considering the idea of destroying their grandmother’s property. As she chewed on her bottom lip, she stared at the pile of laundry. “Maybe I could knock the gutter off the carriage house?”
“Nothing too expensive,” Whitney warned.
“Now back to Deon,” Helen said, deftly returning to the topic. “How are you going to react to him after what went down in New York?”
Whitney had almost fallen into bed with Deon during a hospitality conference in New York City three years ago. Only they got drunk after a chance-meeting at The Plaza Hotel. They laughed, talked about the old days growing up in Orlando, and he walked her upstairs to her room where she vomited, missing her chance to fuck her high school crush, Deon Grant.
She remembered the humiliation as if she were still in her Standard Queen Room. His sable-brown skin shining above her as he pulled her curls away from her face. While she puked in the pristine toilet below her. He rubbed the space between her shoulder blades as she apologized between retches. You’re okay, he whispered.
She remembered how he gently placed her in her bed, kissed her forehead and said goodbye. He had another filming assignment that would take him away from New York City. Perhaps it was Los Angeles, she wasn’t sure. Whitney was out like a light before he left her room. When she awoke the next morning, she saw his note: Good seeing you, Whit. I’ll see you again, somewhere, somehow.
She took a flight back to Miami, completely mortified and hungover, disappointed she’d ruined her chance with her high school crush.
“I’ll be cool around him,” she said. “Deon doesn’t have anything to worry about. His film crew will exorcise my demons and move on.”
“That’s the hope!” Helen said, snapping a pillowcase.
Even without the Bordeaux ghost, maintaining the four thousand square-feet property was another large challenge. Between the two of them, cleaning and dusting was difficult. When she and Helen arrived to survey the property, a note from housekeeping greeted them. Two women had worked alongside Ernestine to keep up the interior, while one local man served as the groundskeeper. All three employees quit after Ernestine died.
They left no explanation.
When Whitney reached the second-floor landing, she stared at the closed door to the master suite, The Colonial Room. It was a beautiful accommodation with its four-poster mahogany bed and heavy green brocade curtains. She imagined that the man who built the house, Michel Tremblay, would have appreciated her grandmother’s version of old-moneyed opulence.
Because someone was spending a lot of time in there at night…
She held her breath as she skipped the master suite, ignoring it for a safer accommodation. Whitney no longer entered the room alone. When it needed dusting and vacuuming, Helen always accompanied her. They had kept it locked ever since the last guests left. The man and his wife’s experience had managed to frighten everyone in the house, and Whitney couldn’t risk another bad TravelHub review.
Her phone buzzed in her back pocket, causing her to heave a sigh. She barely had the time to talk to anyone because the Ghost Punters were arriving in a few hours. But it was her father, and he rarely called. Alarm shot through her as she answered. “Dad? What’s wrong?”
Leon Beck’s warm baritone chuckle eased her slightly. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “Can’t I call my daughter?”
Whitney didn’t remind him that it was usually his wife who made the calls to his daughters, but she did smile as she quickly unlocked the first room. “How are you and mom?”
“Your mother is out having brunch with her girlfriends.”
“And what are you up to?”
She could hear his grin through the phone. “Seeing about y’all. I haven’t heard from you in a while.”
Guilt settled in the bottom of her stomach like a stone. She felt awful for not telling her parents about Ghost Punters. Her parents were doubtful about the sisters taking on the property, convinced that the upkeep would be too much for just the two of them. Her mother was especially vocal about her objections. Though she never gave a specific reason, Whitney suspected it had to do with Ernestine. After all, her mother had grown up with Grand-Mère. And as far as grandmothers go, theirs was quite eccentric. To the public, she was a famed Neo-Expressionist painter who ran in the same circles as Andy Warhol. But among her family, she was also well-versed in everything occult, which annoyed Colette to no end.
“Mother, stop telling the girls those scary stories,” was a common refrain from Whitney’s childhood. Whitney assumed her mother’s own childhood was so chaotic that moving to Orlando to marry a man of science was the only way to have a “normal” life. And you couldn’t get more normal than Leon Beck, a NASA engineer, who had no interest in the paranormal. Extraterrestrial stuff didn’t get him excited either.
“Oh, we’re fine, Dad,” Whitney told him. “Just doing a little Friday cleaning.”
Her father paused on the line, while Whitney moved to the next room. “Your mother still thinks it’s a bad idea for you two to be that far north, and so isolated,” he finally said.
“Yes, I’ve heard the concerns. But what were we supposed to do? Sell it? Grand-Mère would have been disappointed.”
“Oh, I don’t know about all that,” Leon chuckled. “Your grandmother would be proud of anything you girls did. Your mother just worries, that’s all.”
“How has mom handled the rest of Grand-Mère’s estate?” Whitney asked, awkwardly changing the subject. She didn’t want to tell her father that she worried about their prospects, too. Not when she still had something to prove. She’d promised herself that the Palms Resort failure wouldn’t break her. She wouldn’t let one hurricane ruin her opportunity to run her own business. “Has the last of the artwork sold?”
Her father allowed the subject change with a skeptical grunt. “Almost. What wasn’t already in a museum is now on its way. We had a guy come by from the Netherlands to look at the Blue Bayou piece.”
“Will Mom keep anything?” she asked, moving to the next room.
“Oh kiddo, you know your mom. She’s quiet about this stuff to begin with. I don’t think she likes treating this part of her mother’s life like a business. Talking to all these art people wears her out.”
“I can imagine,” Whitney said, dusting a vanity mirror in the Admiral Room. It was a mostly royal blue and white room with subtle nautical themes.
“People keep asking her the same thing,” her father continued. “Why did Ernestine leave the city, and her fame, to go to the middle of nowhere?”
“Artists are strange people,” Whitney joked, though she knew it didn’t take too many reasons to want to escape something. Ernestine fled Louisiana when she was a young woman, just as Colette had fled New York City, and now Whitney escaped Miami. The women in their family just stayed on the move.
“Yeah, I suppose. How’s the town? Y’all getting any snow?”
Whitney opened the bay window to fan out some of the stuffiness and instantly felt the outdoor chill. “We’ve got a few inches of old snow,” she said looking out at the frozen creek behind the mansion. “I think a storm might be headed our way tomorrow, but overall, things are fine here. The town is as lovely as it was when we were kids. The people are great.”
“What about the bears?” her father teased.
“They don’t bother you if you don’t bother them,” Whitney laughed as she shut the window and locked up another room. She skipped the rooms Helen had already cleaned and ran back downstairs. The Ghost Punters crew only needed a place to lay their heads. They weren’t interested in the full turn-down services. “We haven’t seen any bears anyway,” she said as she passed Helen who polished the wood furniture in the library. The whole bottom floor now smelled like Lemon Pledge. Whitney opened the front double doors to air out the noxious fumes.
“Who is that?” Helen called out.
“I’m talking to Dad,” Whitney said doubling back to the kitchen.
“I wanna talk to Daddy!”
Whitney handed the phone off to her sister and got back to work. The kitchen was in good shape just in case the crew needed to film it. Helen was pretty good about cleaning as she cooked. As she studied the immaculate space, Whitney worried that she couldn’t distract herself from the anxiety of Deon Grant coming to her house because there was nothing left to clean and nowhere to hide.
The fear of having to explain why Helen reached out to his show, ping-ponged in her mind. They hadn’t spoken to one another in three years and now she needed him to get rid of a ghost? She hated asking for help in general. Asking for this felt even more bizarre.
But then again, the excitement of seeing her high school crush made her heart thump just as wildly. Whitney fluffed her black shoulder-length curls and checked her teeth in the kitchen mirror. Not bad at thirty-nine-years-old. As she looked closer, she noticed tiny wrinkles under her eyes that seemed new. When she squinted, they became more pronounced.
She hadn’t been sleeping well for the past few months and was starting to the see it in her face. Between the loss of business and the nightmares, the dark bags under her eyes had grown heavier. Whitney tried to make herself smile but couldn’t feel it. She was exhausted and spiritually worn down.
How will I get through the next three days?