Mimi Berve approached an old white mansion on a slight rise overlooking Bay Harbor. On a wooden sign overhanging the porch, she saw "No Vacancy" in neat black letters.
Nevertheless, she opened the screen door and went in. The hotel desk was in a small sitting room on the right, but as there was no one behind it, Mimi looked into what must have been the parlor on the left -- a large room with a bay window looking out onto the harbor.
Two portraits over the fireplace drew her attention: one of a young man in a severe black suit and the other of a young woman in a long pale blue gown.
What struck Mimi about the woman was how much the two of them looked alike. The same large, blue eyes in a round face, the same curly blonde hair, the same ample bosom in a wiry body.
As Mimi gazed at the two portraits, she became aware that someone was standing beside her. She turned to see an old woman studying her with the same absorption with which she had been studying the portraits.
Mimi looked straight into the woman's pale blue eyes.
"You wanted a room?" the old woman asked.
"I do!" Mimi exclaimed. "Do you have one? I've been looking for hours. I have to get to my writer's retreat. But you have a no vacancy sign ..."
"We have a room but we usually don't rent it out. Follow me into the office."
They stepped across the hallway, and the old woman picked out a set of keys from behind the desk.
"Let me show you the room," she said. "The big key is for the room. The little key is for the front door. We lock the front door after 10:00 PM."
They went up the stairs and stopped at the door of the room above the parlor.
"This was the captain's bedroom," the old woman said as she opened the door.
Mimi gasped as she entered the enormous room with a bay window looking out onto an even more magnificent view of the harbor. To the left was a large desk, then a sitting area by the window, and on the right a large four-poster bed. Over the fireplace were portraits of an older couple, also a captain and his wife.
"Do you like it?" the old woman asked.
"It's wonderful! But I'm afraid I couldn't afford --"
"Since we usually wouldn't rent it out, I'll give it to you for a hundred and twenty dollars with breakfast. Do you want it?"
"Yes!" Mimi exclaimed. "I'm delighted."
"That's Captain Woodrow Musgrove and his wife on the wall," the old woman said, becoming chatty now that the business was concluded. "Woodrow built the house in 1803 with money from the slave trade." She looked at the four-poster bed. "That was their bed," she said.
"Are all the furnishings original?" Mimi asked.
"Well, from the 1850's. Captain Musgrove -- that was Woodrow -- was the captain of a whaling vessel lost at sea in 1853. The room looks pretty much as it did then." She cocked her head slightly to the left, like an inquisitive bird. "You don't believe in ghosts, do you?"
"Not at all," Mimi said. "Why? Are there ghosts in this house?"
"Only in this room. You see, Captain Musgrove was obsessed with the idea that he might die early and then, as he put it, be forced to share his wife with another man. So he made Loretta swear that if she outlived him she would never remarry, but remain faithful to him until her death.
"She was from a poor family, and an offer from a wealthy captain was not something she could afford to refuse. So she made the vow, thinking, well, after he died he would never know what she did, anyway.
"As it turned out, she was not married to him long. Four years of agony. She hated him. He was arrogant, selfish, jealous, demanding, and abusive --!" She suddenly stopped, gathering herself back together.
"Anyway, on his second voyage after their marriage, he was lost at sea. Loretta waited ten years, until she truly fell in love, with Joseph McCutchin, a local farmer, and broke her vow to Woodrow Musgrove. She and Joseph were married on August 11th, 1863, and on their wedding night, in this very room, while they were making love for the first time in this very bed, the ghost of Captain Musgrove appeared, still dripping with salt water from the deep.
"Approaching the bed with savage moans, he attempted to strangle Joseph, who leaped up naked and jumped right through that bay window. He landed on the lawn below and ran bloody and shrieking out along the harbor. That was the last Loretta saw of him."
"Oh my goodness!" Mimi exclaimed. "You talk as though you were there!"
"It's a well-known story," the old woman said. "At any rate, the ghost then came towards Loretta, who was standing by the broken window. 'Go ahead and kill me!' she screamed at it. He kept coming, moaning savagely as though incapable of speech. But just then the first ray of sunlight came over the horizon. The ghost disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, and Loretta fled the house in her nightgown, fled all the way to Pennsylvania, to which some of her family had moved, not to come back to this house except as a corpse after she died in 1907. She's in the burial ground behind the house. You can see the tombstone, Loretta McCutchin."
It was getting late and she had to get to Camp Meadowlight by noon, but the story held her.
"You said you didn't believe in ghosts. Do you believe in an afterlife?" Again, the quick little incline of the head.
"No," Mimi said decisively. "I believe dead is dead."
"But there are disturbances. That's what a ghost is -- a disturbance. All a ghost longs for is serenity -- to be dead like other people. That's why ghosts haunt certain places at certain times, places where something was left unfinished, seeking revenge, mostly, hoping that the passion in some way might dissipate like fog beneath the sun, and the ghost might know some peace."
"You obviously believe in ghosts," Mimi said.
"That I do. That's why we never rent this room. I'm only showing it to you because you seem so anxious for it. You're sure you want it?"
"Yes, yes. I'm not afraid of ghosts."
The old woman shrugged. "You can pay me and fill out the forms when you leave," she said.
Mimi walked with her down the stairs and then hurried out to her car. She'd bring her overnight bag up to the room later. Now she had to get to the writer's retreat at Camp Meadowlight.
After the meeting and dinner was over, and by the time she got back to the Captain's House, it was after 10:00 PM.
The front door was locked, but the small key on the same ring as her room key opened it. Mimi eased quietly into the house, her overnight bag slung over her shoulder, and locked the door behind her.
Even in the dim light of the lamp still burning on the desk, Mimi could sense the magnificence of the place -- the grace of the tall bay window, the elegance of the furnishings, and the fineness of the wood.
She made her way up the stairs and across the hall, fumbled at the door with the unfamiliar key, and entered the room.
There was no light on, and the open bay window was framed like a painting surrounded by the moonlit harbor. Unwilling to give up that view, Mimi laid her overnight bag on the bed. By moonlight she found a nightgown, closed the bag, and put it on the floor.
She took off her clothes, put on the nightgown, and crept into the plump, cozy four-poster bed. The one which, if the old woman were to be believed, Captain Musgrove's ghost haunted.
Mimi laughed at herself. What was she thinking about? She didn't believe in ghosts.
She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew she was awakened by the sense that someone was standing over her. The bay window showed only a few scattered lights around the harbor. But someone, or some thing, was definitely there.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw a black mass hovering near the night table. Her heart froze, and for a moment she hoped she was dreaming.
The mass moved, straightened up, and came to the edge of the bed. She cringed beneath the sheet, unable to move, and the figure began to moan, a moan of pain that Mimi could barely distinguish. She felt a drop of water on her forehead, then another on her throat. The moaning became louder and then Mimi felt cold fingers clutch her throat. The bloated, drowned face of Captain Musgrove descended towards her, and with a scream Mimi finally realized who the old woman was, and why she had rented her that room.