By Suzi Lewis Pignataro
When I was twenty-four, my boyfriend Eamon and I visited the Pacific Northwest. Our final destination before flying home to the Bay Area was the magnificent Mount Rainier in Washington, where we held reservations at the historic Paradise Inn.
Mount Rainier became the fifth national park in 1899, by order of President William McKinley. Construction of the Paradise Inn was completed in the summer of 1917. Massive amounts of hand-hewn logs and rock went into its open beams, Douglas fir floors, and towering stone hearths. The German finishing carpenter Hans Fraenke built most of the knotty-pine furniture including the upright piano and fourteen-foot grandfather clock housed in the Great Hall. This expansive lobby with its 1,500-pound tables opened up to a mezzanine illuminated by lamps whose hand-painted shades depicted local wildflowers.
Standing on the slopes of a volcano for the past sixty-two years, the Paradise Inn has received families and heads of state from all over the globe. Eamon and I unfolded our stiff and travel-weary bodies out of our Leprechaun-size rental car and fell into its lap of rustic luxury.
We checked into our small but well-appointed room. As with all quaint lodgings, Eamon found the bed ill-prepared for receiving his 6’4” frame. He yawned like a hippo, stretching until his knuckles grazed the ceiling, and declined my invitation to a pre-dinner hike, opting instead for a nap on one of the large sofas in the lobby. We returned to the Great Hall, where I gave the big lug of an Irishman a fond kiss and set out for the wide-open spaces.
I did not get far.
I love the outdoors. Nothing uplifts my spirits and transports me out of the space-time rat race like being in mountains with their meadows, trees, lakes, and rivers. But when two grizzled men with thirty-pound backpacks and mud-caked Timberland boots tore past me in a panic, yelling, “Run!” at the top of their lungs, I did a one-eighty and high-tailed after them, shouting, “Wait for me!” I followed in their wake for a good two miles before they jogged downhill to an awaiting VW bus and I veered uphill toward civilization. The cloying scent of Lysol never smelled so good as when I burst, panting and shivering, through the inn’s front doors. Not until I collapsed on my bed, gasping for breath, did I realize I had no idea from what danger I had just narrowly escaped.
Dinner was first entertaining then irritating as a tipsy Eamon attempted to engage in conversation with a jovial, beer-sucking Bavarian whose wife, also feeling no pain, tittered and belched – and tittered and belched – ad nauseam. Eventually, the men gave up on words and settled for guffaws, punches to the arm, and beard tugging – while lifting one eyebrow – in that pre-verbal, prehistoric language that leaves women wondering just what the hell their men are all about. What these two cavemen seemed to be on about was getting very, very drunk.
When I could no longer suffer the giggles, grunts, and gastric eruptions of my inebriated companions, I pled exhaustion and said good night. Well into his cups, Eamon asked his new buddy – in a mixture of English, hand signals, and Pidgin-German that reminded me of Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes – if he wanted a nightcap. “Ja! Ja!” the man enthused. I shook hands with the wife, who tittered and belched in return, and made my way up the stairs.
I was floating between wake and sleep, where my mind channel-surfed through film clips reminiscent of David Lynch and Federico Fellini, when I heard Eamon come in. There was barely enough room around the double bed and armoire for him to navigate. He resembled nothing so much as a circus bear in a curly black wig, taking off its costume at the end of a long day under the Big Tent. Even his languid belly scratches and deep sighs were ursine. In my altered state, I thought he slapped me on the cheek with a freshly-caught trout, but it was just a very human and sloppy Jack Daniels’ kiss. He cursed in Irish as he maneuvered his naked mass into a bed made for the more diminutive folk of a bygone era. Giving up and over to sleep, he finally quieted down, his calves and feet sticking out of the white quilts like birch logs beneath a snow bank.
“Thop thickiling my feet.”
The words hovered somewhere above the right side of my head. Turning in their direction, I found myself in bed with a hare-lipped ape. That explained the lisp.
“I’m not tickling your feet,” I replied to the ape.
“Yeth, you are,” the ape charged, affronted.
“I am nowhere near your big ol’ feet.”
The ape scratched his head.
“Then, who ith?”
I was becoming annoyed, and I wondered where Eamon had gone to in the middle of the night, leaving me alone with this recalcitrant anthropoid.
“How should I know?” I shot back. “Why don’t you – Hey! Stop tickling my feet!”
I was fully awake now. Eamon lay beside me, poking me in the side.
“If we aren’t tickling each other’s feet, babe,” he asked, “then who is?”
Propping myself up on one elbow, I peered over the heap of quilts to find a small girl standing by the bottom of the bed.
“She is,” I informed Eamon. Eamon raised his head, looked at the child, and shrieked.
“Who the fuck is that?” he hissed from beneath the covers.
Rather than state the obvious, I decided to study our intruder. She seemed to be around five years of age, and judging by her dress, had lived at the time when the inn welcomed its first visitors. Her pinafore was of starched linen; the gingham dress underneath was frilly and freshly laundered. A large ribbon held back long, dark curls; its bow perched over her right brow. She smiled at me in the way of all mischievous children – with her large dark eyes slanting like a cat’s and twin dimples bracketing her upturned mouth. Laughter played silently upon her lips. She was sepia-toned and not quite solid.
Just as I was about to say hello to her, there came from outside the room the thump-thump of something heavy bumping along the corridor. The girl looked toward the door, startled, as if she knew she was being naughty and feared being caught; but, also, like a child who had been waiting for her mommy or daddy to arrive and was excited at the prospect of an imminent reunion.
The sound drew closer. I imagined an old-fashioned trunk, its lock loose and clanging, being dragged toward the stairs. Eamon peeked out from his hiding place. “What now?” he whined. The girl turned toward the sound in the corridor, and flew through wall. Eamon let out a scream and hit the floor.
I looked at my watch in the early morning light. It was now 6:30. I had spent the past three hours in the company of a hysterically repentant giant of the lapsed-Catholic variety. It was a feature presentation of “The Exorcist Meets Gulliver’s Travels in Ghost Land,” with “Saint Michael’s Prayer Against Evil Spirits” as the opening short.
Eamon sat next to me on the bed, his attention focused on the lightening sky outside the casement window. I resisted the urge to inquire if he thought the vampires were back in their coffins; if it was once again safe to venture outside. Instead, I asked, “So, do we stay or do we go?” Eamon lunged for his suitcase.
The receptionist batted her purple-shadowed eyelids and licked her peppermint pink lips. “Oh, you’re leaving us already? We have your room reserved for one more night.” She looked down at the guest register and tapped our name with a fuschia fingernail. “It’s right here: Mr. and Mrs. Joey Ramone, two nights.” She frowned at Eamon. “Is something wrong, Mr. Ramone?”
Eamon leaned over the counter. “Tell me sometin’ darlin’,” he replied in his thickest brogue. “Has anyone else, ot’er t’an me and t’e missus here, had t’eir feet molested by t’e wee ghostie girl while lyin’ all cozy in one o’ yer stunted beds?”
Our bags thumped and bumped as we dragged them through the Great Hall. Behind us, the receptionist could be heard yelling into the phone: “No, Mr. Holstaad. I can’t fulfill my summer contract, and that’s that. I – I – Why didn’t you tell me this place was haunted?!”
Somewhere in the walls the little girl laughed.