Things that go bump inn the night

Years ago, when my friend Adam Turteltaub and I were groomsmen at a buddy’s wedding in Mobile, Ala., he took one look at the spectacular four-poster bed in my room at the bed and breakfast where we were staying and observed — referring to my wife — “I can’t believe they’re wasting this room on you when Victoria is home in Vermont.” Indeed, the inn was elegant, inviting and romantic.

I have, of course, stayed at inns that were somewhat less appealing. Once I stayed at a place that felt a little bit like the Bates Motel of bed and breakfasts.

Now, when I’m traveling on business, I don’t need a flat screen TV the size of a billboard, turndown service at dusk or chocolates on my pillow. I may want those things — especially the chocolates — but I don’t need them.

And when I’m staying in a bed and breakfast, I’m likely to be especially content because most folks who become innkeepers like people and derive disturbing amounts of pleasure from scrambling eggs. The only downside to a bed and breakfast is the guilt you feel when you steal the soap. It’s one thing to steal soap from anonymous corporate monoliths: It’s not as if you’re pillaging Paris Hilton’s doctoral program trust fund when you throw an unwrapped cake of Ivory into your carry-on. It’s another thing, however, to steal the soap from retirees Hal and Mindy who just offered you a breakfast scone that Mindy baked herself.

I mention this so you know that my hospitality standards are not rock star ridiculous. They are only novelist ridiculous, which means that I don’t have to have specially selected colors of M&M’s waiting for me in a bowl: I simply have to have a bed.

Which is pretty much what this inn offered. My room had been booked by the venue that had invited me to speak, and I arrived there about 1:30 in the afternoon. (You will note that I am not revealing the name or location of the inn. That would be an abuse of columnist clout. Besides, others have done this for me on a website for travelers. A few reviews could only be called damning.) The inn’s exterior did not look dingy, but the door was locked. I knocked and rang the bell and was about to give up when the innkeeper came to the door, as well as the inn’s one other guest: A woman in a nightgown, bathrobe and tattered slippers who exuded scary silent film star in denial. The front hall was dark, shadowy and a little dusty. When I asked where I might get a bite to eat for lunch, the innkeeper gave me a warning: “You’ll just get lost if you go into town.”


“There’s only one other guest here,” she said when she showed me the room, “and if you hear a door slam in the night, it’s not her.” On a bureau was a television about the size of a lunchbox.

“Then who would be slamming the door?” I asked.

She shrugged and gave me the code to log on to the Internet. It didn’t work. And then she disappeared. There was a phone, but no handset.

That night I did hear a door slam. (In all fairness, it wasn’t followed by a scream.) The next morning when I went to check out, there was no sign of human habitation. The dining room table was set for two and there was a small handwritten menu, offering toast and cereal and eggs. But the innkeeper was nowhere to be found. Absolutely no sign of her anywhere.

Later, when I called the inn from my car to give her my credit card number, she did pick up.

“I was right in the kitchen,” she said.

“No you weren’t,” I corrected her. “I called out for you. I went into the kitchen looking for you.”

“Well, we have solid walls,” she said.

I shook my head. I really wished I had stolen the soap.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on May 1, 2011. Chris’s next novel, The Night Strangers, arrives on October 4, 2011.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.