Good evening fellow traveler. What brings you to the Inn at Ithaca Hills? Did the fox send you my way? He presumes I have nothing better to do. Well, my friend, you look tired. Have a seat by the hearth, but before you do, grab a log from the pile and feed the fire.
Walk lightly, though; other travelers sleep upstairs. Did the fox tell you I had food? I hope not because we have nothing left but the warmth and my tales.
Good, good. Much better. That log was a good one. Nice and dry. Listen to the crackle. Smell the wood. You can tell that log came from an ancient tree. Old trees smell different.
Did the fox warn you of the ghost story? Oh, no, I see that look on your face. You think ghost stories are scary. I’m sure some are, but those are just make-believe. It’s too late, and you’ve traveled too far for scary stories. The ghosts in my tale are real. That’s right, and if you live long and love all, you’ll meet these ghosts – all fourteen of them.
The first ghost is the life-saver. I’ve never seen it myself, but I reckon it’s small. Small as the lives it saves. Before you’re a walker, stairs are as grand as mountains, and climbing up them is your only goal. At the top, tired and clumsy, you lean back a bit too far, but before you tumble down the hardwood stairs, an invisible hand pushes you forward. The friendly ghost saved your life.
Ghost number two comes in the form of a songbird that spent a morning outside your bedroom window. This flashy feathered creature has come from a faraway land and has seen more than any man or woman could in a lifetime. Like the log, there is a story in the bird’s song—a different song for every window. You won’t remember hearing the haunting tune, but its rhythm has guided you every day since.
You don’t believe a bird is a ghost? I see it plainly on your face. Well, this bird is. The little thing has never stopped long enough for death to find it.
You may recognize the third ghost from your history class, at least if you were paying attention. Ben Franklin, the funny bald man with the odd-looking spectacles. Do you remember meeting him on a school trip to Philadelphia those many years ago? The tricky thing is the actor dressed as the famous American founding father was a founding father. Do you remember what he said to you? That’s right, lost time is never found again. Ben Franklin has too much to do to be dead.
How long have I’ve worked here? Long enough to have seen your parents come through that door. Maybe your grandparents too. The fires have warmed many travelers. What’s an Inn good for if not warmth.
You distracted me. Where were we? The fourth ghost? Ah yes. She is special. The fourth ghost sat next to you on a plane. You’re all pretty brave to fly in one of those flying machines, but the woman who sits next to you with enough age to be your great-great-grandmother is the bravest of all. She told you her story from a young girl to old and the plane will be back on the ground before she is finished. Her riveting tale of love, war, and escape will sound unreal. Did you not notice you had the same eyes? And the recipe she gave you for Bavarian cream was the same your family handed down for generations? All those times you repeated the life story of the old woman on the plane to friends and your children you were retelling the history of your own family.
Your look of confused amazement is familiar. No one recognizes their ancestors when they visit in real life.
The fifth ghost is a song, like the bird, but this one you’ll notice’. It’s a man on the radio. On a lonely twisted highway behind a setting sun, you’ll listen to a ballad. The singer in his soft country twang will name you and explain where you’re going. Time is not enough. Time is not enough. You’ll spend a month trying to find the name of the tune, but there’s no discovering a song made just for you. The message is clear- you were bound for big things.
Sure, I say that to everyone who comes through that door and sits by this fire. You are all travelers, risk-takers, and pioneers. You made it to this safe space in the deep dark woods. As the song warns, don’t go back from whence you came because it never ever is the same.
Ghosts come to you when you’re alone. Not by yourself, but when you are alone. You can be alone in a room full of people.
The sixth ghost is a cool breeze on a hot day. You are standing in right field in early June. The ball never comes your way. Sweat puddles and your mind drifts to silly friends, challenging games, and the sweetest foods you ever ate. The breeze comes to remind you you’re not alone. You’re a part of a team. The breeze alerts the hairs on your arm, and they rise to shout only you can get the next batter out. The screaming ball speeds your way; the warning just enough time to put it away. The cool breeze moves on to the next village down leaving in its wake the joyous cheers of your teammates and friends.
The seventh ghost is a tree in the forest. When you look up, you notice a giant treehouse with a ladder and lights. You hear kids laughing. You’ve never climbed so high, but you give it a try. Never looking down or even up, you scale the tree, rung after rung. Eventually making it to where the treehouse once was only to find it was just a mirage. The treehouse was never there, but carved into the tree at that exact spot are numbers. Memorize them.
Do you remember the cat you had? Not that one. The one who came on a rainy night with a chunk of ear missing? You do? You were quite small, but do you recall the name. That’s okay if you don’t. He lived only a short time under your roof. You called it Cat Cat, but its real name was Thomas, and he is the eighth ghost. For those few weeks, you gave Thomas all of the love and attention a child could. It taught you how to be gentle, kind, and generous before you even knew what those words meant.
Pardon? The music upstairs? Must be one of our guests. Sounds lovely.
The ninth ghost lives in a painting you had to have. It is the one of the kids on a boat. You paid quite a sum to hang it in your home. Worth every penny, I say. It improves your mood every time. It’s magic how you can hear the gulls and sounds of water lapping against the boat just by seeing it. But who is the Ghost? Is it one of the children on the dingy they borrowed without permission? Maybe it’s the fish the youngest one caught or the parents at the beach calling them back. Who can tell? This is a mischievous one to be sure. My advice, look longer.
You would like to guess the tenth ghost? By all means. The woman on the Louisiana bayou? The one with the unforgettable bowl of gumbo. You even remember her name-Miss Ophelia. She told you the story about the pirates and the small dog, but she’s no phantom. She is as real as the andouille you find resting comfortably in her stew. But do you forget how you arrived at Miss Ophelia’s doorstep on that unbearably hot day in July?
The highwayman who gave you gas for your vehicle? Virgil. He wanders the roads looking for people to assist when they get caught in a time loop. Roads, so long, they fall off maps. Virgil returns you the path. He brought you to Miss Ophelia’s. He was ghost number ten.
You’re welcome to take off your boots and set them by the fire. That log you added is doing an excellent job.
Remember that friend you had before he moved away? Not really. It’s okay. He was a dark-haired boy named Patrick. Yes, your mother always talked about him. From birth till five, he lived in the house next door. You played together every day; in the snow and at the beach. You built kingdoms of sand: sold mud pies and lemonade. Patrick taught you how to play, to work, and laugh. He became a ghost when he moved away and then into your memories and eventually finding a home inside your dreams. Unlike us he never ages; he’ll never get any older than the day the moving truck took him and his toys from you. You don’t remember your dreams, but you and Patrick still play together in them.
Ah, I love this song. The fiddle is such a beautiful instrument. Don’t you just love the way music echoes through the halls?
You look tired so we should move along. The twelfth ghost is a giant too big to see. Hiding behind clouds, she’s happy to help. Slow to anger. Her gift is grooming the planet, so the trees don’t grow too tall, and the wind doesn’t blow too long. She lived in the woods near your home, where you walked with your dog and your children. Your children could see her when they looked up to you. They found her between the glint of the sun between the dancing trees. She was really there for you.
I love this song. Does it sound familiar? Eh, no? Give it a bit more legs to run. You’ll recognize it.
You think about the thirteenth ghost often, especially having traveled so far—so many lifetimes. The ghost responsible for those close calls, coincidences and chance is the fox. It’s been your guide your whole life. Like you, it’s clever, charming, wise, beautiful, and daring. Tonight, it’ll rest right under an elm tree by the front of the Inn.
Ah, I see recognition in your face. It must be the song. Don’t go back from whence you came because it never ever is the same.
The fiddler knows all songs, and this is yours.
Well, the log you placed is nearly ash, and we’ve come to the end of our story. You look tired and happy. Like a grandmother after a Thanksgiving feast. Let me show your room.
You’re still seated. Aren’t you coming? I forgot something? Oh, yes silly me. The fourteenth ghost? I believe you know who is the fourteen ghost.
Time is not enough.
The fourteenth ghost is yours truly. Your humble host, storyteller, and giver of warmth. My official title is innkeeper and warden of the lands you have traveled to.
Time is not enough.
You have not come to hear me sing that is quite certain. The fire is out and I can see your heavy eyes. Do you recall the numbers you found while climbing the tree? You do. Excellent. Match those to the doors upstairs. That will be your room. It has everything you’ll need.
Welcome, fellow traveler.