Chapter 21: The Ghosts of the Dude Rancher Lodge

900 miles is a long long long long WAYS in a car…

-Modest Mouse

 

“What exit do I get off of again?”

“How should I know? It’s probably the first one when you come into town. What does your phone say?”

“I don’t know, I’m talking to you on it.”

“Oh… Um, I think there’s an Arby’s or something close by when you get off.”

“Mmmmm… Arby’s… Hold on.” I reached over and clicked the “previous” button on the music player.

“Just open up Google Maps and type in ‘Dude Rancher Lodge.’ You should be there in a couple minutes after you take the exit.”

“Oh. Well gee, now that you mention it, that’s actually a good idea. I’ll see ya soon!” I ended the call and did exactly as I was told, my coordinates set to the Dude Rancher Lodge of Billings, Montana. Hmm, better start the song over, just in case.

10 minutes had passed without any sign of a Dude Rancher Lodge, or even an indication that I was getting close. “Seriously, where the hell is this place?” I let out a sigh of exasperation as I firmly pressed on the “previous” button one last time—for the third time. “I swear this is the last time.”

And then there it was, a mere 2 blocks away; the Dude Rancher Lodge, a two story brick and mortar motel topped with wood siding, proudly erected to my immediate left. I happily pressed the “previous” button one last time and called Bill. Aside from the fact that it was located in the middle of a city, the motel was appropriately named given its appearance.

“I’m here. Come out and meet me— Dude, I don’t know which room you’re in—well I don’t know where that is… C’mon that’s just confusing, just come ou— Well, I have a lot of crap to carry— Just meet me outside… I’m in the parking lot—DUDE! Why can’t you come out? It’ll take you like, two seconds… because man, I just need you to— dude, please, just come out and—oh, ok, cool. See ya soon.”

Another minute passed. C’mon Bill, where the hell are you? It’s been two minuets, hurry up why don’t you—damn it!” I paused the music. The amount of time it was taking for Bill to get out was really starting to get under my skin and spark a fuse. “What the hell’s wrong with him? I just drove 12 hours to get over here and he’s taking his sweet time! I grit my teeth and started shaking my head, frustrated with pernicious thoughts bubbling inside. “And now I have to start this damn song over again. Why must I be so disrespected? In what way do I deserve this… this insolence? Why, the moment he shows up, I’m gonna jump out of the car and—BILL!”

I quickly pressed play on the music player, cranked up the volume and jumped out of the car. Bill walked across the parking lot with a giant smile ripped across his face. I matched him smile-to-smile and spread my arms out for a hug, while an upbeat tune played from the Benz.

“The boys are back in town…” The chorus by Thin Lizzy repeated, coupled with a scale of notes plucked rapidly in the scale of G Major. “Oh man, what a coincidence!” I exclaimed. “You started to come out, and this song started playing. That’s awesome!” His smile grew even larger.

“It’s like it was meant to be! You mentioned you needed help getting your stuff?”

“Oh me? Naw, I got it. Just my backpack and a couple of Rockstars is all I need.” I grabbed my goods and followed Bill to the room, barely able to hold in my excitement. “You know, it feels like years since the last time we hung out.”

“I know right! Actually, when was the last time we hung out?” he asked, the lock on the door to the room giving him trouble.

“Honestly, I sort of forget. Yesterday, I was in Minnesota, and before then I was in Wiscon—“ Bill popped the door open. “Gretch! Oh my God, how are you! You look grea—uh, I mean… hey… what’s up?” I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders. “Good to see you… I guess.”

“Hey,” she said while lying on one of the beds, giving me a quick nod before burying her head back into her phone. After all I’ve done for her… typical.

“Well, you wanna hang out for a while? There’s going to be a BBQ at our Aunt and Uncle’s house.”

“Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que!” I began to chant. I wouldn’t stop until Gretch was forced off the bed and into the car. Bill soon joined in on the incantation.

“Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que! Bar-Be-Que…”

***

“Hello, I’m Zack,” I said and waved as I walked through the front door, making the customary introductions to Bill and Gretch’s extended family.

“Hi, I’m Bill’s uncle, Bill,” said Bill before greeting Bill. “How are you Bill?” said Bill to Bill.

“I’m doing well. It’s good to see you again Uncle Bill,” answered Bill back to Uncle Bill. There was something about their conversation that developed an ever-growing grin across my face, though I could never quite figure out what it was.

“Well Bill, Zack, and Gretch, are you guys hungry?” asked Uncle Bill.

“You betcha!” I answered. “Why, I haven’t had anything since I stopped at Carl’s Jr. back in Bismark!”

“Well good, we have a few burgers and brats cookin’ on the grill for ya.”

Burgers and brats… again? “…What the hey, burgers and brats sound good… for the 4th time.”

“Do you have any beer?” asked Getch. We knew she would pop the question; we just didn’t think it would be this soon. No amount of preparation could’ve prevented Bill and I from sinking our shaking heads into our hands. We quickly made our way towards the backyard patio, retracting ourselves from any previous association. No shame, whatsoever…

“Lea, how the heck are you?” I said with a heightened pitch as I walked through the doorway and onto the deck. It had been ages since I had seen Bill’s mom, a great and festive lady through and through. And wouldn’t you know it, sitting beside her was a signature can of Coors Light, a sight that called for a hug.

“Welcome to Montana,” she said back to me before introducing me to the rest of the family. There was Bill and Gretch’s Aunt Ann, Aunt Sue who was married to Uncle Bill, and their cousins Michael and Helen. They offered me a Coors Light of my own, of which I gladly accepted and joined them in the social circle, gazing over a landscape that was still in transition between the barren plains of North Dakota and the rugged frontier of Montana with the setting sun finally making its grand entrance, late, as I knew it would be; a setting that unlocked the gregarious side of my personality. Forget small talk. Let’s get right to the issues! Our conversation started out on the conservative side, for I was unwilling to pull a Gretch and blurt something out that would have even the mildest consideration of being labeled as offensive.

“Have you guys seen the new Rihanna video that just dropped? It’s called ‘Bitch Better Have My Money,’ or BBHMM for short.”

Helen and Aunt Sue’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Helen and I listened to that song the other day,” said Aunt Sue.

“Oh man, the music video is pretty bad! They kidnap this girl and beat her up and make her do drugs and stuff.”

“Maybe we should all watch it a little later,” replied Helen. It was an activity I wasn’t the least bit apposed to.

“So what else do you do besides watch BBHMM?” asked Aunt Sue.

“Well, that takes up a lot of my time, and usually the rest of my day is spent trying to build submarines and stuff. Yea, I know, it’s kind of boring. In the meantime though, I’m trying to be a writer!”

“Oh that’s very neat,” replied Aunt Sue. “What have you been writing?”

“Well, I’m trying to finish up this story about a boy who has to deal with his dying dog. It’s pretty sad and all. It’s like the dog is really old, and the boy comes home, and then he has to re-examine his life, and wonders what he did wrong, and eventually has to make a decision whether or not…” I could tell the mood was getting a little somber. Not to spoil the evening, I quickly switched topics. “…I mean, I don’t want to ruin the whole book or anything, But I write other things too. I have a blog that I keep up with from time to time, and I even wrote a screenplay a couple of years back.”

“Oh really, what’s it about?”

“Well…” I hesitated, unsure how to explain the intricate plot of the screenplay. “I mean, it’s kind of complicated, so I don’t know if I should to go into details. It’s almost better if—“

“Just go for it, I’m sure we can figure it out.” I took a deep breath and a nice swig of Coors Light, finishing the rest of the beer’s contents. Here goes nothing… 

“So there’s this cat burglar… and when he robs a house, he leaves a calling card. He uses the bathroom and… he doesn’t flush. I call it, ‘Turd Burglars’.”

“Oh,” was the common reply around the social circle, coupled with a wide-eyed look and a long, taught, “lips-are-sealed” look.

“Oh look, I’m out of beer. Better grab another one.”

“We still have that bottle of wine in the fridge, don’t we mom?” said Helen.

“We do indeed! Why don’t you get some for our guest Helen,” said Aunt Sue. What the heck, why not? Helen disappeared into the house, only to reemerge with a half-full liter sized bottle of cheap rosé.

“Here you go. It’s all yours,” said Helen, eager to hand me the bottle.

“Anybody else want some?” I asked as I looked around. The rest of the group seemed just as eager to watch me drink it straight from the bottle—so I did.

“Dinner’s ready!” suddenly cried out Uncle Bill, making his way to the kitchen with a plate full of burgers and brats. We all scurried to load up a plate of our own with a unique arrangement of burger, brat and all different types of fixin’s. After filling our plates with grub, we reassumed our positions on the porch and continued our conversation between bites of meat and sips of wine.

“I’ll tell you what Lea, I love those two to death, but oh my gosh were they bad,” I began, preparing myself with a hearty sip of wine. “After the wedding, they kept laughing, and giggling, and chuckling in the backseat. It was so distracting, and it made me miss the turn off to the hotel! And don’t even get me started on the roundabouts or how they wouldn’t shut up in the hotel room. I could barely sleep that whole night! And Gretch, boy oh boy has she developed quite the potty mouth as of late…” Lea sat and listened, shaking her head harder and harder in disbelief the more I continued. That wasn’t the way her children were raised, that was for damn sure, and her distress caused me to take another good gulp of wine.

“Don’t get me wrong though, we still had some really good times on the road,” I continued. “And for most of the trip, we were on our best behavior, at places like Jackson Hole, especially Denver, Kanses, Iowa, and Minnesota!” Both Bill and I filled them in on our adventures and they happily listened, although there were probably certain details that were inadvertently left out, being that so much had taken place during our travels.

Our plates gradually became empty as our conversation went on, my bottle of wine turned from half full to a quarter full, and the sun continued its decent across the semi-rugged plains of Billings, suggesting that darkness would soon overtake the sky. “Hey Zack, before you guys leave, would you mind taking a family picture of us?” asked Aunt Ann.

A loose rumble came from my insides as she asked, warranting suspicion of an allergic reaction. “Maybe I should slow down,” I told myself, for I had felt this way after drinking wine before, and the results were always devastating. Shake it off son. You’re on a roll. “Sure, I’d love to,” I said, graciously accepting the request. I lined the family up in the living room, Bill and Gretch on the left side, Michael and Helen on the other, and all of the aunts and uncles in the middle.

“Ok, here we go. Say cheese!” I clicked the middle of Sue’s phone and the camera app made a clicking noise. “Wait a minute, something’s wrong. It didn’t take the picture correctly.”

“Well let me take a look,” said Sue, rushing over to see what was the matter.

“I did exactly what you said, but it just took a picture of my face.” Sue took a look at the camera and paused, as if she were holding her breath. After a second, she let out a snort, and then exploded into bursts laughter.

“Oh my God Lea, look—he took a picture of himself!” It was all she could let out before another round of breathless laughter overcame her. Lea came over and examined the close up of my face sprawled across the screen, so resolute that you could see the fine details of each strand of unshaven facial hair under my chin. She suffered the same fate.

“You have to press the button and it’ll switch over—“ Sue continued before once again succumbing to the hilarity of the situation. The reaction was contagious too, for everybody joined her in expressing their amusement, Ann, Helen, Michael, everybody, except for two… Bill and Gretch crossed their arms and shook their heads, their faces seething with jealousy. “Ha ha, very funny Zack,” said Bill in a very sarcastic manner.

“Oh my God. Typical Zack joke,” followed Gretch. Years of family gatherings and a lifetime of work and preparation in order to create such joy and comedic celebration had paled in comparison to what I was able to achieve in just one evening, and in it producing a response of pure envy, boiling and firing so fiercely that it reached the inevitable breaking point of containment. It was understandable, but unfortunate, really; a joke so funny, that it actually caused me to laugh—at my own joke! That rarely happens, ever!

After a minute of calming down (and believe me, it took a while for everybody to settle their britches), I was finally able to take the picture. Bill and Gretch forced their smiles, trying to hide their irate emotions from seeping out any further, unlike the others whose smiles were all natural. And sadly, by the look of the picture, everybody could tell.

“Hey Helen, do you wanna come out with us?” asked Bill after he had given himself a minute to calm down. “I think we’re going out to some of the bars tonight.”

“That sounds awesome!” she replied with a spurt of excitement. Before hoping into Lea’s Subaru (previously borrowed by Bill to initially get to the BBQ) and headed back to the hotel, we made our rounds and said our goodbye to the rest of the family, including Michael, whose age unfortunately hindered him from partaking in the nights festivities. Bill ensured him however that when the time came, he would with no doubt guide him through his rite to passage.

“So what hotel are you guys staying at?” asked Lea, parting her concentration between her kids and a battle with me over the volume of the music playing over the radio. However rude it may have seemed, I felt it necessary to support our penchant towards classic rock, a fondness I knew full well that Lea once loved, making her sudden opposition baffling to all of us.

“Isn’t it something about dudes?” I replied. “Dude Ranch Inn or something?”

“…You mean, THE Dude Rancher Lodge?” asked Helen, each succeeding word more alarming than the last.

“That’s the one!” answered Bill. We continued the conversation about the hotel while Helen grew mysteriously quiet, almost completely sinking into her seat. Her silence was buried under a mixture of our excited chatter and The Cars, “Just What I Needed” that kept being turned up against Lea’s will until we were dropped off at the hotel.

It was straight to business the moment we entered our room at the Dude Rancher Lodge. “Alright Helen. We’re giving you an honorary punch card,” I told her, followed by an explanation of its use and the number of derogatories allowed. “Gretch blew through hers in no time, a horrendous experience I never want to live through ever again. Even I, I’m ashamed to admit, had a major blow up due to some behavioral issues of certain individuals, but you my friend, get to start out with a clean slate!” I handed her a makeshift card with her name on it made out of a paper coaster provided by the hotel. “Go ahead and start! You can use swears, racial slurs, anything that comes to mind!”

“Um, I might just wait a while on that one,” she said. “And actually, maybe we should start heading out to the bars soon—“

“Oh nonsense! Let’s have a couple of Old Fashioneds before we head out! We need to pre-funk a little bit anyways. And besides, there’s still the premiere of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” music video!”

“You know, on second thought, we can probably skip the BBHMM premiere, and really, the bars around here aren’t that expensive, so there’s really no need to pre-funk—”

It was no use, for I had already set up the computer and had BBHMM on queue. I clicked play and for the next 7 minutes, we studied the theme and message behind the explicit music video that involved the kidnapping, drugging, and torture of an unsuspecting executive’s wife, images that were both disturbing and at the same time, intriguing. All the while, my body was engaged in a torture of its own. It could no longer be ignored, the excessive intake of wine had no doubt caused a reaction, and an allergic one at that; my body actively rejecting the toxins I had put into it. For several minutes, I masked the symptoms—swollen throat, runny nose, and rumbling bowels, hoping each would go away with time while we analyzed the finer details of the video, looking for a deeper meaning associated with the madness… until the madness inside me reached the point of no return.

IMG_1588

BBHMM Premiere

“Uh, you guys, I think the wine… it gave me… I… I gotta go to the bathroom!” I ran to the door and turned, one final request before go time. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes?”

“Well, how about you just meet us over at the bar?” suggested Helen. She was ambitious in her quest to get out of there, and maybe I couldn’t blame her. From the sound of it, the nightlife in Billings had potential, much more than waiting around and listening to some dude destroy a toilet.

“Ok, yea whatever. Text me.” It was all I could fit in before succumbing to a fast and effective relief forced upon me by the laws of human decency. I’ve been known to do some crazy things in my day, but making a mess when it’s not necessary isn’t one of them.

For the next several minutes after the initial wave I sat and waited, making sure there weren’t any further eruptions. People tend to do a lot of thinking when they’re stuck in a helpless situation, which has been the case for a good portion of my life so far. You pay better attention to detail, and notice things you normally wouldn’t. And in that moment of solitude, I could hear a faint tapping. The further I paid attention, the taps seemed like they had turned to knocks—audible knocks on the door.

“Hello?” I called out. There was no answer. “Bill, is that you? Helen? Gretch? Gretch, is this a joke?” Still, no answer. “C’mon you guys, this isn’t funny anymore!” Another set of soft knocks resumed. “Who’s there?” I tried to stand up, but could not, as I was cemented on the ring of which I sat until my task was complete—a task far from completion. By the time I had finally finished, the knocking had ceased and there wasn’t a soul in sight. I hurried out of the room and to Hooligans Sports Pub, where Bill had told me to meet.

***

I walked in and found the trio right as the server set a fresh pitcher on the table. “Is there anything else you guys need?” he asked.

I perused our table, eventually coming to a collective and steady nod with Bill and Helen. “I think we’re good—“ I caught one last glance at Gretch. “Um, on second thought, you better bring us another pitcher.

“Coming right up,” said the server before making his way back to the kitchen. Helen watched as he disappeared into the depths of the bar, ample distance to ensure a private conversation could be maintained. She looked left to right, one more check to make sure the coast was clear, and then leaned in, prompting us to do the same.

“You guys do know about the Dude Rancher Lodge, right?” she asked us, her voice soft and quiet.

“What about it?”

“Well, some lady and her husband started building the place in the 1950’s. A couple years after it was finally built, the husband died in a tragic car accident, so the lady lived in the hotel with her kid until she died sometime in the 80’s. Ever since her death, people have seen strange things going on all over the hotel.”

“Like what?” asked Bill, leaning even closer in to set his level of intrigue.

“TV’s turn on and off, people will hear a knock on the door, only to find nobody’s there, and people have even heard and seen children roaming the halls at night.”

“Oh my God…” It was a subconscious reaction that neither Bill nor I could refrain from saying.

“So, you’re telling me, there’s like ghosts and stuff?” asked Bill.

“Yea. The place is haunted by the lady, her husband and her son.”

“Whoa…” both Bill and I replied, leaning back just as if we just had our mind’s blown. “I knew I heard something when I was on the crapper!”

“What room are you guys staying in again?”

“226 I believe,” said Bill. “Why?”

“226… oh God. That’s one of the—never mind. You guys will be fine.”

Bill leaned back in his seat and dozed off into space. “So we’re in a haunted hotel… Weird.”

“I don’t believe it!” It was a sudden, out of character shriek. We whipped our heads around to Gretch, sitting back in her chair and pouting, her face so tight face it’d scare a pit bull. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“Gretch, don’t be disrespectful to the dead,” I pleaded. The last thing any of us needed to do was to piss them off.

“Screw the dead! Why don’t you all just shut up?”

“C’mon Gretch, we’re just having a little fun.”

“I don’t care. There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

“Gretch, how do you even know—“

“Zack, just—just drop it. Ok?” requested Bill, hoping silence would eventually defuse the situation. I honored his request out of respect, timed perfectly with the arrival of another pitcher of beer. Gretch poured herself a pint, immediately drowning herself in the sorrows of alcohol, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems. No emotion besides anger was displayed. As fast as it was poured, it was emptied into her body for processing; its contents filtered through the liver for future distribution, a process that was to be repeated until Gretch became a much more tolerant person.

Four or five pints later, we called it quits and returned to the hotel. I looked back at Gretchen and Bill, happily stumbling together as a loving pair of siblings would. “Lea would be proud.” I thought to myself. From that sight, I came to a conclusion that Gretch was able to find peace with the ghost after all, making the outing a success.

IMG_1598

What the heck was in that whiskey???

“Well Helen, if you need to, you can bunk with us tonight,” said Bill as we walked back into our room at the Dude Rancher Lodge. “We have more than enough space for one more if needed.”

“Um…” she contemplated, staring into our room as if she could sense an evil presence lurking about. “Thanks for the offer, but I… I think I’ll just head home. My dad’s on his way to pick me up anyway.”

“Well, can I make you an old fashioned while you wait?” I asked, already starting the process of making one for myself.

“Eh… thanks, but I think I’ll pass on that one.” A quick jingle sounded from her phone, informing her that she had received a message. “Oh, that’s dad. He just got here!” Helen gathered herself while the rest of us positioned ourselves to say a proper goodbye.

“It was awesome hanging out with you Helen,” first said Bill along with a hug.

“Yea, I’m glad we finally got to go out to the bars,” followed Gretch, her turn for a hug and goodbye.

“It was nice meeting you.” I said to her. “Hopefully we can all make it back here again. I think I like Montana a lot so far.”

“Agreed. I really hope I see you again,” she said, parting words that left me with a hint of concern. I took a long sip of my old fashioned and then rattled the glass around, pondering over the silence that filled the room.

“Hey, did you guys feel like Helen was a little agitated whenever she was in the room?” I looked at Bill who shrugged his shoulders, then to Gretch. She awarded me no sign of acknowledgment. “Gretch? GRETCH!”

“What?” she replied with irritation, her eyes buried into her phone and fingers tapping away, feeding the gluttonous social media beast.

“What the heck’s on your phone that’s so damn important, Miss Anti-social?”

“Oh nothing really. Just messaging your future wife, that’s all.”

“What do you mean future wife?”

“Her name’s Brecken.”

“Oh yea. That is your future wife,” replied Bill. “You guys are like perfect for each other! Like peanut butter and jelly!”

“Two peas in a pod,” added Gretch.

“Milk and Honey.”

“Bread and butter.”

“Dude, I already have a future wife. And you know that Bill! 15 years! Remember? Do you really think I need to get myself in any more trouble?”

“But this one’s the real deal! You have to,” again said Gretch.

“Look, I appreciate the offer, but I’ve already fallen in love with way too many people so far this trip. One more—that’s just overkill.”

“Just look at her picture real quick, would you?” asked Gretch. She held up her cell phone with a picture of my “future wife” on the screen.

“Ok, she’s a babe, I get that, but c’mon! Now’s not the time to make any sort of commitments.”

“Just give Zack a break Gretch. He’s had a long day of driving, and I think it’s past his bedtime. You know he gets a little cranky at the end of the day.

“Thank you,” I almost said out loud. At least somebody has some sense to quit.

“Isn’t her family loaded too?” asked Bill.

“Wait, loaded?” I asked, with slight confusion.

“Oh yea, she’s super rich,” answered Gretch.

There was a slight pause. Bill and I looked at each other, as if a great epiphany had been bestowed upon us. We could feel it, moving through our legs and up into our bodies, slowly widening our eyelids and diluting our eyes, a heavy force overtaking us, awakening us into convulsive retractions the longer we stared. It drove us towards insanity, to a point of no return, a total blackout of reason, where all forms of resistance had become futile. I had to speak, had to say something, had to release this energy suddenly built up within me, energy that didn’t seem natural, or normal; almost as if it were… paranormal. Something was just edging us to act, to move, to—

“MAMA MIA WE GOT THE MOOLA!!”

“HELLO!” hollered Bill. We grabbed each other for a hug, nearly going in for a kiss. We hopped up and down, grasping each others arms as we circled round and round in place at the edge of the bed.

“Mama mia we got the money WE’RE RICH!!!”

“Time to get paid!”

“We got the mowwww-nay!” I jumped up onto the bed and bounced up and down like a stiff Billy Goat.

“QUACK QUACK QUACK,” Bill blurted back before hopping up onto the opposite bed.

“AHHHOOOOOOOGA!”

“ARRRGG, WOOF WOOF WOOF!”

“AOHHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH-OHH,” I cried out and repeated, patting my hand against my mouth to signal an Indian war call.

“Haha ha,” said Bill using a laugh that insinuated calming.

“Haha ha,” I joined, feeling the calm myself.

“Ha.”

“Ha…ha.”

“Ha-HA ha.”

“Ha-ha, hee, haha…”

“haha ho. Haha heehee hee, haha hooooo hoho. Heeheehee hahaha hohoho—haha HA haha—hahaHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

“HOOOOOOOOOOOO—“

“WAAAAAAAOHHHHHH!!!”

“WE DID IT BABY!”

“MAMA MIA WE DID IT!”

“WE’LL NEVER HAVE TO WORK AGAIN!”

“WE HIT THE JACKPOT!”

“DWOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE-WOOBLE!” It was a sound that came from my mouth as my index finger flicked against my lips in an up and down motion, over and over again until an obnoxious scream from Bill broke my attention span.

“OHHHHHHHH—“

“WOAHHHHHHHH—“

“WOOOOOHHHHH!”

“HAHAHAHA!”

“HEEHEEHEE!”

“HOHOHO…”

Nobody’s sure what made us act like we were in the middle of a Tim and Eric Haunted House sketch that night. It wasn’t known exactly how long it lasted or when it finally came to a stop. In fact, there wasn’t even much evidence that the event ever occurred. But it couldn’t be denied by any of the guests that a strange and disturbing occurrence was heard, coming from room 226 of the Dude Rancher Lodge that evening.

***

“Man, I don’t know about you, but I feel like a million bucks,” I said to Bill the next morning as I rose out of bed.

“That was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years!”

“What about you Gretch… Gretch?” Bill and I looked over at her, pinned against the corner of the wall, eyes wide and bloodshot. “What the heck happened to you?”

“Are you guys freaking kidding me?”

“…What are you talking about?”

“You were acting like animals. Literally, both of you.”

“What do you mean animals?” I asked. Gretch had to be talking crazy talk. “Look, this is what happened. Helen left, and then you tried to set me up with some babe, and you showed me her picture and told me she was loaded, and then… then…”

“Then what?” asked Bill.

“I… I don’t know.”

“You’re tellin’ me both of you don’t remember anything?”

Bill and I looked at each other with bemusement. “Well, what happened?”

“You guys were totally out of control. It’s like you went psychotic, like you were… possessed…”

“Possessed? By… by who?”

“By gho—” she paused for a second. “Ghosts…” said Gretch as she stared off into space. Bill and I joined her, each of us just as stunned. “The Ghosts of the Dude Rancher Lodge…”

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