*NewChapter 1: The Inn
Sheridan woke up alongside a country road where a thick late afternoon fog forced her off the highway the evening before. The unseasonable blinding whiteness was eerie, but not unheard of in Nebraska.
She had been on her way to Omaha for a book signing to promote her first book Living Bedouin.
She wiped the sleep from her eyes. Every muscle seemed stiff and sore. Even with her slight five-foot-four inch frame, curling up in the back seat of her minivan made her feel cramped like a pretzel.
She’d dreamed, but couldn’t remember what she’d dreamed. Peeling her sticky, thick tongue from the roof of her mouth made the icky taste even more like rotten food. She fished through her bag for a bottle of water. Finding it, she swished some around in her mouth then opened the window to spit.
The map showed that she must be within fifty miles of Lincoln. The fog had not lifted. In fact, it was probably denser than the night before. She checked for a signal on her phone again, but she was in a dead zone and even the GPS wouldn’t target her position. She would have to call Michael once she was back on Interstate 80.
She smiled at the thought of Michael. After three years of mourning the death of her husband, Mark, she was finally dating again.
For over a month now, Sheridan had toured Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri promoting and doing book signings. Along the way, she stopped in small towns and found church groups and other small town meetings. She set a goal of writing a book about the local communities, from the history of their founders, to the present day remnants of those roots.
The people were hospitable and their community strength often centered on church and family. The differences that seeped into their present day were the unique ancestral histories. With more research, most of which she could do from home, she would have enough material for another book.
Sheridan loved her position with the university, and probably published enough to keep her on faculty. However, she found she enjoyed the writing and particularly the research much more than teaching. Field research was the most fun.
The glaze of fixed concentration cleared from her mind and she could see the fog lifting. Looking forward she saw a sign that said, “Hidden ½ mile.” The sign made her laugh, “Oh why not” she said aloud. It would probably take about a day to research one more town and it might put a nice ending to the new book.
First, Sheridan made a three point turn on the narrow road and pointed her car back toward I-80. The fog bank was still dense in that direction which was disconcerting. She inched slowly forward and soon felt completely lost. Her sense of direction in the fog was
non-existent. With trepidation, she repeated her three-point turn back toward the signpost and found she had not moved much at all, and the fog had dissipated in front of her. She looked behind her into an opaque white curtain. A shiver ran down her back as she drove into the small town of Hidden.
She pulled up in front of an ageless Victorian mansion. The huge double doors were wide enough for three or four men side by side to walk through. She stepped out of the car onto a wooden sidewalk. There was a sign at the corner that read simply ‘Street.’ She stood back and looked at it again trying to find the outline of faded letters or numbers in front of the word. There weren’t any. There really was not much room for anything but the word “Street.”
Oh, she thought, this town is going to be very interesting. She took a slow three hundred sixty degree turn and saw it was the only visible street. She wasn’t sure if there were any alleys, although she did see footpaths. She looked down and noticed she was standing in the middle of the street. “Hmm, guess I twirled.” She giggled.
Sheridan turned her attention back toward the Inn. From her new vantage point, she could see the long wings spreading from each side of the central section. The well-maintained, ancient building loomed imposing over the street.
Standing in front of the great walnut doors, she noticed the left door had a large bronze knocker shaped like a flower that was obviously out of some artist’s abstract mind. The other door boasted a matching bronze plaque, “Hide Inn: Come on In.” She ran her finger over the bronze flower and was shocked that it seemed softer than most bronzes. It was like bronzed baby shoes. She could feel the feathery shape of the petals and even striations of a feather. The grouping of petals was not unlike a lily. The abstract rendition reminded her of a painting she had in her living room of a rose bud in a vase that upon second look was a woman’s hand.
The stem of the bronze flower made up the knocker and clanged like a heavy weight against its back-plate. Sheridan jumped in shock as she heard the noise reverberate through the interior of the great building.
As she waited, Sheridan looked across and down the street noting all the buildings were limestone. Limestone quarries dotted the plains so it wasn’t surprising. What did puzzle her was that the buildings were all the same square design. Except, she noticed, the one across the street that was obviously a church of some kind. It had a sign standing in the yard with the words Angel Choir Chapel. The Chapel boasted a bell tower, but no visible doors
She suddenly realized there wasn’t another soul visible. Maybe she was too early and they were all still preparing for the day. She sniffed the air. It was clean, like after a rain. No, it was cleaner. There were no farm smells, no alfalfa, animal feces, or fuel odors. She slapped the back of her hand when she felt a sting and thought comically that they must have forgotten to remove the insects.
A feeling of deep calm washed over her. She didn’t know why, but she didn’t want to question it.
She stretched her arms out and took a deep breath of the fresh air. The feeling of relaxation continued down her entire body as she continued to breathe the crispness deep into her lungs. Then she tensed as she noticed something else in the air.
Sheridan felt goose bumps rise on her arms as she noticed a faint, melody. It had been there unnoticed since her arrival. It was like having the radio in her car on very low and suddenly noticing the music.
The sounds were the most beautiful harmony of voices she’d ever heard. It came from inside the Chapel across the street. It was like a combination of halleluiahs, with an undertone of humming. Her heart lifted and warmth washed through her body. She wanted to go find the singer’s but turned when she heard a movement behind her.
Methuselah opened the door of the Inn. The short, odd, little man looked like he bore the wisdom of the nearly 1000-year-old man from the Biblical comparison. Each crater-like wrinkle seemed to disappear when his smiled. “Good morning young lady. Me thinks you have a problem with reading.” His gravely, hoarse voice belied the youthful agility he displayed with a funny little jump and kick that reminded her of a leprechaun. He pointed to the sign on the door.
“I’m sorry sir, I couldn’t resist the knocker. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“He’s a curious flower, he is for sure.” His phrasing was so quaint she would have to make note of it to use in her book.
His face furrowed with deep wrinkles. His thick, wavy, gray hair nicely trimmed with a full, well-trimmed beard. The old man was somewhat stooped, but she noticed he stood erect very easily. She enjoyed his theatrics, but wondered just how much she could trust the old guy. She tried to gauge his height compared to her five foot four inch length, and she guessed him to be a few inches taller. His smile was playful. The Innkeeper didn’t seem to fit the majestic feel of the Inn.
“Well I can see you are going to be an interesting guest.”
As he motioned her through the door, he enlightened her. “I’ve learned two things about you already. You don’t follow instructions and you can’t fight temptation.” His smile grew from ear to ear with a sense of self-satisfaction.
As he lifted his left hand to welcome her inside, she noticed it was a child-sized hand. It looked smooth and soft. His right hand was a man’s hand, rough and calloused from hard work.
“I see you’ve discovered my gifted hands.” He held them both up.
“You sir, are a wonder.” Sheridan smiled as he was chuckling to himself.
He led Sheridan to a large bureau made of cherry wood in a foyer at the end of a long, wide corridor. She noticed doors to rooms off both sides of the passageway. One door was open revealing an office. She imagined the other doors were equally as utilitarian, except one labeled in great polished brass lettering: SHEPHERD’S CLOSET.
Once they entered the foyer, their voices echoed and Sheridan looked up to see all the way to the top of the three-story building with grand staircases curving up to each wing from the base. She felt that she must try to sketch it, however rough her talent.
As she stood at the bureau pulling out her credit card, the old man slapped a ledger on its top.
He turned the book in her direction and glanced at the card. “Take things for granted too I see. You don’t pay until you leave. The amount of your stay depends on what you do with your time here.”
“What does that mean? Do I have to clean the Inn or help paint the church?” The sarcasm seemed lost on the host. Fatigue overruled by humor. She was no longer enjoying the cat and mouse game.
“Nope, Sheridan Easterly,” was all he said. His eyes twinkled like a child playing gotcha with his mother. She could see the game was still on.
Sheridan looked down at the ledger. It lay open to a clean page. It looked brand new, as did the pen that lay on top of it. The pen was a quill and the bottle of ink sat on the desktop next to the ledger along with a clean cloth for letting the excess ink drip before signing. “It fits,” she said. “It looks perfect for the Inn. Now, I understand the lack of plastic.” She chuckled as she signed her name in the style of a calligrapher, which was odd because she didn’t remember ever studying the art.
He grabbed her bag and waved his arm like a scoop signaling her to a grand staircase. “Practical woman, you travel light.”
Nothing much escapes you does it.” Sheridan was getting weary of his banter.
“That’s why they call me Catch.”
Sheridan sighed. “I’ve traveled a lot. The road tends to teach you a few lessons. Catch, is that what you want me to call you.”
“Everybody calls me Catch.”
“Catch” She repeated.
“Did you know that your name, Sheridan, means to search? Are you a searcher, Sheridan?”
He carried her luggage up an ornate staircase. “Yes, I do know what my name means. But, how did you know my name? You called me by my name before I even signed your ledger.”
He pointed to an identity tag on her luggage.
“Oh, that works too.” A deep yawn escaped her as he opened the door to her room. “Excuse me. I guess I’m more tired than I thought.” Sheridan noticed symbols on a wall plaque beside the door. “What is this all about?” Sheridan pointed to the plaque. “It looks like some kind of ancient, symbolic script.”
She traced the symbols lightly with her fingers. The contrast of stiff, dry balsa wood against the smooth, polished wood of the door jam oddly seemed to fit. The symbols seemed familiar. “Hmm,” She became the scientist again. She remembered why she took the detour to Hidden. “These symbols look like an ancient lost language. I’ve seen something like them somewhere.”
“Well, it probably is authentic then.” Catch opened the door.
Sheridan peered into her room and gasped
The contrast overwhelmed her. The new Early American style furnishings of the suite took her by surprise. The bathroom door stood open revealing all the gadgets of the most elegant hotels. She stood in front of the bathroom door and saw a walk in tiled shower, a large vanity complete with ornate mirror, built in hair dryer and plush rug. The bathtub was large enough for two with body massaging jets. “Wow, this is something that I plan to take advantage of right away.” She turned and smiled back at Catch. There were even bottles of her favorite brands of shampoo, lavender soaps, and candles setting on top of the marble counter.
The old man smiled, “Ye didn’t think we were all backward did ye?” Catch seemed to have an endless repertoire of wisecracks to suit his chosen persona. He even added a hitch in his get-a-long to go with the old hillbilly.
Catch deposited her luggage on a bench in a spacious closet. Looking around the room, she noticed a large portrait of the same odd flower as on the doorknocker. The room was like a dream from her youth. The color scheme and design of the room were in her favorite colors and styles.
Thinking of finally getting a chance to call Michael, she noticed there was no phone, television, or even a radio.
“Mr. Catch, I was hoping for a telephone to call my friend in Lincoln. I don’t see any in the room.”
“No need to be so formal, just call me Catch.” He drew in a breath. “We live simple here. We don’t use phones, cars, or any of the things that make the world move too fast.”
“Don’t you have a telephone downstairs for emergencies?”
“I’m afraid it isn’t working, and I don’t know when it’ll be fixed. We have an old two-way radio. I’ll see if we can get that to work.” Catch replied. “You should get some rest and something to eat. You aren’t expected today are you?”
“No, not particularly, my friend is used to me not checking in for a day or two. This isn’t the first spot I’ve been in where I couldn’t get a signal.”
Catch started to leave the room then looked back. “You are here because you are supposed to be here.” He said almost in a whisper as he started out the door.
“What an odd thing to say.” Sheridan thought his statement sounded sinister.
“Enjoy your room, you will find everything you need.”
“Wait, don’t I get a key?”
“No need for them around here.” The old man turned his back to her and continued on his way. He obviously was not going to explain his odd statement.
Sheridan was alone in a lavish room, decorated as if they decorated it exclusively for her, and it puzzled her. She made a deep sigh and looked around the room.
A bath sent warm relaxation through her body. The water gently rolled over each part as she twisted and nearly swam in luxury. Stepping out on the rug her feet sank so deep her foot tops tickled by the deep threads. In the closet, a robe of pink silk slid over her body like a caress.
Sheridan forgot her fears, her anger, her frustration and fell into that welcome calm she’d felt when she first arrived.
The flower portrait on the wall detailed more of the subject. The leaves were heart shaped with red veins. The petals were feathery and white. The artist had painted a yellow-gold stamen as if it shown like burnished gold. She was curious about the designer who could have dreamed up such a beautiful theme for the Hide Inn. Without thinking, Sheridan found herself sniffing at the painting as if she’d inhale the fragrance of the flower.
She pulled her laptop out of her tote and filled two pages of her journal. Tonight she didn’t bother journaling her usual daily report. Tonight Sheridan talked to Michael though her journal, which he would never read. Knowing he was totally innocent of her journal content she allowed herself to admit her feelings for him went beyond friendship. She asked him if they could go beyond the Dean of Sciences and Anthropology instructor friends who go to dinner and a movie once a week. Their occasional lazy Sunday afternoon strolls through on of the many Lincoln parks.
She wrote how she was over her pining for a long dead husband. The explosion took more than her soul mate; it robbed her of the child she’d carried. She would never have a child of her own. Her fingers started shaking and missing keys as she spilled her feelings and doubts about Michael coping with her inability to make him a father. She typed questions to herself answering for him one way, then another. She coached both herself and Michael to move forward.
Was she making an argument to help convince Michael, or was she rationalizing her desires? She didn’t know, but it was all coming out as she tapped the keys missing some and making more typos the more frustrated she felt.
She loved Michael and she knew he loved her. Their love was companionable rather than electric, but just as heart felt and deep. She continued to journal thus until her eyes drooped.
She deleted her entry as she’d intended from the onset. Then she did her usual daily log entry before sliding between the silk sheets.