I began working at The Inn shortly after I started my first year in college. Not the stereotypical college student, I did not enroll for my first semester until eleven years after graduating high school and needed to supplement my income with numerous forms of part-time employment. While patronizing the restaurant I learned about the owners' need for servers when I asked their daughter if there were any openings. She told me that I should speak to her father. Rick was the chef who owned the restaurant with his wife Eileen. I met with Rick later that day and he agreed to hire me as a waiter.
The Inn was an old wooden structure built around 1850. It has been called by many names in its lifetime, through dozens of ownerships. It was located at the intersection of two major state routes in a small community in upstate New York and was immediately adjacent to the original Erie Canal, the state's first means of statewide shipping and commerce. The canal and its coinciding oxen roads and mule towpaths, have been designated as a state park and will forever be preserved as an embodiment of the historic commercial connection between rural New York communities and the outside world. It is said that people who live near the old canal will sometimes hear shouts and voices and will see lantern lights moving down the canal at night; likely residual energy of the men and women who made their living steering the boats and guiding the barges through the narrow man-made waterway.
The Inn was a small, intimate restaurant which served remarkably delectable meals in a casual setting; and under the ownership of Rick and Eileen was quite popular. The location of the restaurant was crucial in its success. The intersection at which it sat made it highly convenient for its patrons to travel to, and first time visitors were rarely sent away less than thoroughly impressed. Unfortunately, the roads leading to the intersection were both marked as fifty-five mile per hour roads, and the intersection was the location of several fatal traffic accidents. In my five years of employment at The Inn, I learned it to be a fun social experience for its patrons, and an active portal for the dead.
The boy, as I was told, was only fourteen years old. He had just bought his first snowmobile and was riding it home from its previous owner's home when he failed to slow down for the guardrails at the end of the canal's towpath. His parents were following him on an adjacent roadway in their car and were two of the first people at the accident scene. I was not working that night, but our hostess told me how she ran to the scene with tablecloths and linen to help keep the boy warm until emergency crews arrived. The linen only served as a minute comfort for the boy's parents; to relieve them of the sight of their son's broken body. Most of the times that I saw him, he was standing next to the guard rails, or sitting on them, his coat ripped and shredded; his head misshapen and bloody. One night, I saw him inside the restaurant after hours, standing at the picture window staring at the accident site. He would always look at me, but we would barely make eye contact before he would turn and walk away. He never tried to speak to me. He was around The Inn for about two months before he disappeared and I assume he eventually went to the light.
The man was in his mid-twenties. One Sunday afternoon that I was not working, I decided to have dinner at the Inn. The man had tried to bypass stopped traffic at the intersection, ironically in a rush to get to his brother who had just been admitted to the hospital. The sound of the crash startled everyone in the dining room, and I looked out the window just in time to see the man's body flying through the air, propelled through the passenger window of the car he was driving, out onto the asphalt.
I grabbed linen from the place we stored it and rushed outside. The man lived for several minutes while I sat with him... Although we had never met, had never spoke, and the eventual outcome was immediately apparent when I saw him; I decided then and there that he should not be allowed to die alone. Smoke from the twisted vehicles unmercifully enveloped us as we waited for help and he struggled to breathe his last breaths. A co-worker came up behind me as I knelt with the man, offering to attempt CPR. I hurried her away before she could see that his chest cavity was no longer intact for such an attempt. I returned to him and moments later could feel someone else over my shoulder. As I turned, what had to be his identical twin brother stood staring and stoic behind me. "Were you in the car with him?" I asked. No response. I turned back to the man on the ground, "If they get here soon, he might make it". His laughter will haunt me to this day, not because it seemed so harsh and inappropriate; but because when I turned to question his brother on what basis laughter seemed merited, he was gone.
After the emergency crew arrived on scene, I walked to the restaurant and washed. Rick met me outside the restroom and asked me if I was alright. Although I do not know how I represented that I was, my heart was beating through my chest and my temples were throbbing, he thanked me for what I had done and walked back to the kitchen.
The next time I saw the man was about two weeks after the accident, he was in the basement of the restaurant. I had gone down to the walk-in freezer to retrieve some food items and when I turned around to walk out, he was peering around the open door of the freezer, smiling... Almost as if he were pretending that he was going to close the door behind me. For almost six months, nearly every time that I would enter the basement I would sense him. On at least two occasions I could smell the accident. He seemed to get delight out of unnerving me. He would often shift or tip boxes of supplies as I was heading for the stairs. Even though I attempted to make contact with him several times when I was in the basement, he never talked to me before he crossed over.
There was one place in the basement that always made me very uneasy. It was a dark corner near an old cistern. The cistern was covered and had been unused for decades. The owners stored bottled beverages for restocking the bar in this area. I could never leave the spot without feeling a headache coming on and always had the sensation of a gentle breeze, even though there was no ductwork or opening that would have allowed for one.
One afternoon, I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes late for my shift. As luck would have it, several patrons were already seated at the tables and the only other server working was running around trying to cover until I arrived. I hurried into the kitchen to punch my timecard. Rick walked out from behind the shelves that blocked the view of his grill. "How's it going, Rick?" He turned toward me as he walked to the basement door and glared the most hateful, unblinking, blood-shot stare... I froze in my tracks. "Well this is going to be fun", I thought, as I watched him storm down the stairs. I punched my timecard and turned back away from the basement toward the dining room just in time to see Rick entering the kitchen, still in his coat and boots. "Sorry I'm late, do we have any orders up yet?" he asked. My mouth dropped open and I could not speak. Rick smiled and was about to ask me what was wrong when a loud crash that shook the entire building emanated from the basement. It felt and sounded like the entire building was falling in on itself for about five seconds. Rick ran past me into the basement, and I somehow summoned the courage to follow him. We looked for several minutes and found nothing. I went upstairs to the dining room and assured the customers, some of which had stood to leave, that everything was alright. Although all of them stayed, almost half of them complained of stomach or headaches before they left. Later that night when the customers were gone, Rick spent hours trying to find out the source of the sound... He never found it. No customers ever complained of feeling ill after that night.
That night was when I realized the presence of the portal. The existence and the hesitancy of the boy and the man were understandable; it was the location of their untimely deaths. The thing that took Rick's form showed me that the door swings both ways between our world and the spirit world and if we do not protect ourselves, we will not have control when evil walks through that doorway.