Copyright 2016 Wesley McCraw
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The Haunting of New Kingsport
In no hurry, Patty Wallace rode her bike up the Oregon coast, the summer sun on her face. She combed the beaches for agates and shells. She stopped at one seaside town after another. Many were no more than a cluster of vacation rentals. A few shops. Maybe a bar. Sometimes she would splurge on a quaint B & B to wash her hair and make herself beautiful. Sometimes she would sleep under a bridge, or, in one of the larger communities, she would get drunk and spend the night in the drunk tank. She was done judging herself. She took pride in making it through another day.
Each morning she peddled on. She was friendly to the locals (there was enough pain in the world already without her causing more), and they often saw her off, giving her small gifts and bidding her fond farewells. Soon people knew she was coming, knew her face, knew her story. Word spread on social media. She was a tragic figure, but also an inspiration.
“He is in a better place.” “It was part of God’s plan.” “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
Joseph Griffin, her life partner, her other half, had died from heart failure the year before. She couldn’t get over his sudden, senseless death. He was healthy. They were supposed to grow old in the house they had built together. He was a carpenter, and she had fancied herself an interior designer. Selling the house felt like losing him again. She rode from San Francisco in the spring toward Vancouver in the distant, unimagined fall.
“Be grateful you had a love like that.” “God must have needed another angel.” “Everything happens for a reason.”
Only she knew there was no reason. He was just dead.
Her bike had one speed. A basket on the front usually held fruit, nuts, bread, a book, and her purse. She wasn’t a cyclist. She had enjoyed riding her bike around her quiet neighborhood, admiring other people’s front yards. The furthest she would ride was to the grocery store to buy bread, cheese, and some good grapes (if she could find any) so she could share them with Joe when he got home from work. While she rode, she would sing Child Ballads about lost loves, witches, and simple maidens. Now as she rode, she sang the songs without their words. She had an umbrella for the rain and a handkerchief for her tears. She wore a dress. Some said it was her wedding dress, but she and Joseph had never married, never wanted to. It was just a dress. It was the only one in her closet sturdy enough to survive continual wear.
She didn’t know one bike part from another. She didn’t know the places she would stop. She wasn’t used to all the peddling. Most days it hurt to stand and hurt to sit. Not having a plan made it easier to live day by day. It was all new, unknown, and a bit dangerous and, therefore, distracted her from the constant grief.
Her friends and family back in San Francisco tried to help, as if devastating loss could be solved with a bit of unsolicited advice. Seeing their disappointment faces hurt every time. They wanted her better. “Are you okay yet?” They loved the old her, the her that no longer existed.
She loved the ocean while her man had loved the desert. She argued that the stars over the desert seemed different from the stars over the sea, further away. They would go camping east of Joshua Tree National Park. She liked making love while dirty. Once they got home, she loved getting clean again. It would take teamwork, elbow grease. She loved seeing the muddy water at their feet running into the drain and the fresh feeling of the bed afterward, and then they would make love in ways that they couldn’t when they were filthy.
One year they went to Burning Man. They thought they would love it there. They were both artists searching for their tribe. By the end of the week, they learned they would rather be a tribe of two.
“You’re still young. You’ll find someone else.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Get over it. Wallowing isn’t healthy.”
Out of all the towns she had seen so far, the town she arrived at today seemed the closest to the water. It was called New Kingsport though it wasn’t nearly big enough for such a lofty name. There wasn’t a beach to speak of, and the houses lined a steep bank, one row on top of the other.
A half-hearted festival decorated the main street, or a full-hearted festival for such a small community. Yellow streamers wrapped the light posts. It was Friday. The festivities were likely to last all weekend.
It took her awhile to find a place to lock her bike. Every signpost and railing already had a bike next to it.
The more she saw of the town, the more she liked it. Large dramatic rocks jutted out of the sea. The buildings looked a hundred years old, many with gray shingled siding. The salty air had rusted the few cars around. She would stay at a bed and breakfast. The road ended up ahead. To continue north, she would have to backtrack two miles. She didn’t feel like backtracking today. In the morning, she would have more strength. It was an excuse, but she was already looking forward to getting clean.
She followed the smell of baking bread to a bakery where she bought Focaccia topped with rosemary. There was a little farmers market where she bought some strawberries and peaches and a little cone of spiced nuts she ate while she wandered. Two children teased a mixed breed pup, watched by a line of old folks in lawn chairs. The handicrafts were tacky but held a certain sort of charm. She almost bought a painted rock with googly eyes for her sister who lived in Salem but thought better of it. Her sister already had enough junk.
The first peach Patty ate was pregnant with juice. She washed her sticky hands and face in frigid water from a hand pump that had sand and barnacles gathered around its base. An old man pumped the water for her, rising and squatting with his bowed legs. She dried her hands on her dress and thanked him. His broad smile showed off his missing teeth.
At the end of the street was a tiny used bookstore with a faded rainbow pinwheel spinning out front. She wandered inside.
Every book in the shop looked antiquated, besides one rack of modern literary paperbacks. She loved books, but the book she was currently reading was too romantic and pedestrian. She had tried to finish it many times and always lost interest as the plot took another clumsily telegraphed turn. She usually left it with her bike all day, hoping it would be gone when she returned.
She saw a book here she liked, The God of Small Things, about a doomed Indian couple, but decided she should read something new.
“Do you have anything thoughtful? Something that doesn’t have a happy ending. I find happy endings depressing.”
“I have something, but you can’t buy anything here unless you have something to trade.”
“Otherwise, we would run out of stock.”
The place was so overstocked there was hardly any place to step.
“I have a book, but it’s with my bike on the other side of town.” The other side of “town” was only a few blocks, fifteen minutes away at most, but it seemed silly to walk there and back just to give him her dogeared paperback romance.
“Come back with your book, and I’ll be able to sell you this one.” Apparently the book he was already holding was the book for her.
“Is there a place in town I could stay?”
“The Starshine Inn. It’s back the way you came, at the top of the long flight of stairs. You can’t miss it. It will cost you though.”
“I have money.”
The shopkeeper said nothing to this. Patty said thank you, goodbye, and see you soon and walked back down the main street. The farmer’s market had already closed for the day. She still knew nothing about the festival. She climbed the stairs toward the Starshine Inn. She took her time, her legs weak from the peddling. Each rest break, she saw the ocean from a higher vantage point.
The view was spectacular. Maybe New Kingsport would be her favorite town on her trip.
The small building at the top seemed pleasant enough, the man at the desk handsome and congenial. The views were truly spectacular from such a high place on the bank. She couldn’t get over it. The price was reasonable too. She paid gladly, went upstairs to her room, and bathed in a claw-foot tub. The room was simple, decorated with shells and dried starfish, and her bath steamed up the windows. She washed her dress in the sink even though she was tired and scrubbed a stubborn dirty patch with soap that smelled like roses. She rung out the dress with what little strength she had left and hung it near a cracked window to dry.
With her work finally done, she slept naked in the generous bed, forgetting all her dreams.
The next morning she ate another peach, finished her bread, and dressed in her stiff dress. The strawberries had already molded and started to rot. She combed her hair and tied it with a silk ribbon she had found on the nightstand. She dabbed her lips with tinted lip balm.
Downstairs, the man at the front desk looked at her differently than before. His eyes smoldered. His dark stubble was the way she liked it. He had alluring full lips, like Joseph’s.
She had known with certainty Joseph was the one early on. They made each other laugh without effort. Time passed in the blink of an eye.
She descended the stairs and bought a nutty wheat bread from the bakery and more fruit from the farmer’s market. The same people were there. Apparently there wasn’t much else to do in New Kingsport. She often made small talk in the places she passed through, but this place had a friendly silence she didn’t feel like breaking.
She ate on the dock and watched the water rise and fall and the seagulls squabble. Wispy clouds came in off the ocean low enough that she could almost reach up and touch the vapor. She threw her peach pit into the water. Instead of floating, it sunk to the ocean floor like a stone.
It was time to go. She just had one last thing to do.
She gave her book to the shopkeeper. He didn’t examine it. He put it in a paper sack behind the counter. He sold her The Queen in Yellow for thirty-five dollars with an old cash register that made a loud ding when it opened.
“And you’re sure this doesn’t have a happy ending?”
The Queen in Yellow was a handsome volume of an old play in five acts.
“You could skip to the end and find out.” He pushed his spectacles up his hook nose. “But endings, I find, are much more tragic if you think they’ll be happy.”
She shook her head. “No, then the reader feels cheated. That’s why most tragedies tell you how they end from the start.”
“Can the same be said for happy endings that you think will turn out sad? Do you feel cheated then?”
She left, milling over their conversation as she walked. Endings were only really sad when things didn’t end when they were supposed to, and you had to keep on living.
She returned to her bike. The front tire was missing.
She performed a mental shrug. She wasn’t in any hurry, she didn’t have any place she needed to be, and the village obviously had a bike shop. There were bikes everywhere. She would buy a new wheel, or if they didn’t have one, she would buy a new bike. Her dress, her bike, her purse, even her money, could all be replaced. None of those things mattered to her anymore, even if they were all she had. At worst she would have to find a phone and call her sister for help.
For the first time, Patty noticed that none of the other bikes were secured with locks. How ironic hers had lost a wheel. Whole bikes could be stolen with less effort.
She asked an old man on the street—the same man, it turned out, who had helped her with the water pump—if there was a bike shop in town. He nodded and pointed. She laughed at herself. The bike shop was right next to the bakery. How did she miss it?
She thanked him. He smiled, nodded, and didn’t say anything back.
The obese woman who ran the bike shop looked embarrassed to see her, her round face flushing pink. “Patty!” She hauled up a tire onto the counter. “Your wheel was a little bent, so I thought I would take a moment to straighten it out for you. You must have been so worried.”
“It’s just a bike.”
“I replaced the tread too. I hope you don’t mind.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“It’s on the house. I’ve read about your travels. How amazing! You must have a lot of stories.”
“Thank you. That is very generous.”
“How long have you been on the road now? Three months?”
She thought about it. “Almost five.” Had it been that long? She should probably be in Washington by now. The season was already turning.
“You sit right there, and I’ll have your bike back together in a second.”
Patty sat down, more to placate this motherly woman than for any other reason.
The woman seemed pleased and went to retrieve her tools. “He would be so proud of you.”
Patty didn’t know how to respond to this, mainly because it felt good to hear. This woman didn’t know Joseph and didn’t know her, yet Joe had always been proud of Patty when he had been alive. The idea that he would be proud of her now made her eyes water and her throat cinch tight.
The woman went outside with the wheel.
Patty, fearing a breakdown in public, pulled The Queen in Yellow out of her purse and started reading the first act. The language was antiquated, yet readable. She was surprised to understand it with such little effort, especially since the first act was so uneventful.
She was already finished with the whole play before the woman returned. The sun was setting.
“What took you so long?” Patty said, trying not to sound angry.
“What do you mean?”
“I put your wheel on hours ago, Sweetie. I guess you didn’t notice. You were so engrossed in your book. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
Patty looked down at The Queen in Yellow in her hands. She didn’t remember a word of it. She only remembered a red sky and black stars. Maybe she had fallen asleep.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I should go.”
The air outside was cold and damp. Wind gusts bit at her cheek. The sky above the sea was still bright (not at all red), and though the sun was barely below the horizon, the first stars, little specks of light, were already appearing. It was too late to ride to the next town. She would have to spend another night here. It was a pleasant enough place, but she had already stayed too long. She climbed the stairs, hugging her purse with the book inside, and imagined the comfort of her bed and how good it would feel to lie down.
The stars all came out by the time she reached the landing. She wrapped herself tighter in her shawl and, seeing the grand view, didn’t feel like sleeping anymore. She spent some of the evening on the deck looking out at the sea and the stars. They weren’t different from the stars above the desert. She had insisted they were different, but the stars were the same everywhere. She felt shame for arguing about something so silly.
The man at the desk came outside and asked her if she wanted company. She took his hand without saying a word and led him upstairs to her bed. She had shared her nights many times on her travels northward. She enjoyed sex the same way she enjoyed her bread and fruit, with a distant, observed pleasure.
The next morning the man looked like Joseph, her beloved. As she dressed with her back to him, he asked her to come back to bed. His voice sounded like her Joseph’s and made her chest ache. On her dresser was a fresh pint of strawberries. As she tied her hair in the ribbon, she wondered when he had replaced the rotten ones. It irritated her for some reason. He had slipped out without waking her.
“I like your hair down.”
She tried not to snap at him. “Well, I like it up.” Who did he think he was, telling her how to wear her hair?
She walked from the room without looking at him and tromped down to the lobby.
The man she had had sex with was at the front desk. He greeted her and asked how she had slept. “Would you and your husband like breakfast sent up?”
“He said it was your honeymoon.”
“Your husband. Mr. Griffin.”
“We never married.” She rummaged through her purse, not able to look the man in the face. “How much do I owe you?”
“Your husband—I mean, Mr. Griffin took care of everything when you checked in.”
“When was that?”
“Friday.” He laughed at her.
“Yes, of course,” she mumbled.
“I guess it’s easy to lose track of time when you hardly ever leave your room.” He gave her a knowing grin. “You sure you’re not newlyweds? You sure act like it.”
She walked out the front door. She noticed the simple gold band on her finger. Her shadow stretched out in front of her off the landing all the way down to the sidewalk at the base of the stairs. She rushed after it and almost fell.
All the bikes along the street were missing, including her own. The town now had cars lining the sidewalk. Maybe they had come back, now that the festival was over. She bought a ciabatta roll sandwich at the bakery and a bag of dried fruit. She tried to act normal. She tried not to hurry.
She went into the bike shop. Maybe the woman had taken her whole bike this time, thinking it needed a tune-up or something. “Do you have my bike?”
“I’m sorry.” The woman wiped her hands on her overalls. “What’s the name?”
The woman flipped through a little box of note cards. “Sorry, I don’t have a repair order under that name. Could it be under something else?”
“Actually, I would like to buy a bike,” Patty said, trying to sound confident. “Something simple. Something with a basket on the front.”
“Yes! For me! Who else would it be for?”
“I’m sorry. I thought it might be for a child. I have a bike in the back that might work for an adult. It has a basket. I’ll get it.”
The woman went into the back.
Patty pulled The Queen in Yellow from her purse. She was tempted to open it and read it from beginning to end. She had to know what it said. She was also tempted to stomp on it, to tear out its pages, to throw it across the room. Before she did any of those things, the woman came back out with the bike. “Hmm. It looks like the front tire is a little bent. I could fix that for you.”
Patty felt faint. The bike looked exactly like her own.
“Hey, I recognize you,” the woman said.
“You were here yesterday with your husband. Newlyweds, right? This bike was out front for our sidewalk sale and you were admiring it.”
“Yes, I saw it and just had to have it.”
Patty paid for the bike and put her sandwich, her fruit, and her purse in the basket. She walked her bike down the main street in a daze to the bookshop, tapping her wedding band against the handlebar as she walked.
“May I help you?” The shopkeeper sounded perturbed that Patty had propped her bike in his doorway.
“Have you seen me before?”
“Yes. You were in here yesterday. What is this about?”
“I bought a book.”
“Yes, I know. You’re holding it your hand.”
“I want to trade it back.”
“Um. We aren’t doing any trades at the moment.” He could tell she was confused, so he added, “As you can see we are a little overstocked at the moment. We might be buying books again in the fall.”
She placed The Queen in Yellow on the counter and grabbed The God of Small Things from the rack. She had enjoyed it in college, before she met Joseph and her life started. She put a twenty dollar bill on the counter and backed her bike out of the shop.
“Wait! This is too much. Let me get you some change.”
She ignored him and hopped on her bike out on the street. For a moment she feared she would lose her balance, but after a few slow rotations of the peddles, everything felt normal again.
In the distance, at the base of the stairs, Joe stood with his hand shielding his eyes from the sun.
He spotted her and waved.
She peddled toward him. He watched her approach. He wore jeans, the ones that were too worn out, the ones she complained about and wanted him to get rid of, and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He smiled as she got closer to him. The corner of his eyes crinkled. He was handsome, just how she remembered him, only a touch older by maybe a year.
He would always be hers. She would always be his.
“You bought it?” he called out. “I thought you said it was too much. Are we riding bikes today?”
She peddled past. His sent was on the air. Their whole life together, past and future, danced and played in that smell. Her angry seethed. And at the same time she was numb. She couldn’t feel her hands. She felt outside herself. He had died, and that loss hurt her beyond recovery. She couldn’t forgive him. She couldn’t let it happen again.
“Hey, where are you going? Patty? Patty!”
She heard him chuckle, but she didn’t look back. He thought she was joking, playing some kind of game. She kept peddling.
The fog rolled in, causing all the vehicles to turn on their lights. A large forested hill made Patty’s thighs burn. Halfway up, when her legs got too tired, she got off and walked. Each vehicle that came from behind she feared would stop to claim her. Again and again, they drove passed and let her be. She sang a song, even though she was out of breath, so that she couldn’t listen for the sound of Joseph’s old car.
When she made it over the crest, she coasted, riding the break most of the way, her sweat cold on her skin. She was careful not to go too fast, careful not to lose control.
It took her two long hours to make it to the next town.
She kept to the back streets. The fog was as thick as she had ever seen it. It was too dangerous to keep riding. She ate fitfully at an old crab shack tucked out of the way and only known by the locals, her bike hidden behind the building. She picked at a crab shell for hours and took sips from a beer almost the color of water. The butter made it easy for her wedding ring to slide off. She put it in her purse. She made acquaintances. No one seemed to know her face. No one told her, “He wouldn’t want you to be sad,” or “It gets better,” or “Have you tried counseling?” She kept watching the door.
The next day in the next town, at a tavern with an anchor out front, she met an older fisherman. He had a gray beard, a soft voice, and a shoulder tattoo that didn’t make much sense to her. She assumed he was gay.
“Can we get out of here?” she said after a brief conversation about a local brewery.
“Are you running from someone?” he said with humor. “You keep looking at the door.”
She didn’t smile.
He lugged her bike into the back of his truck while she went to the restroom. There was a brief rush of hot tears that stung her eyes. She washed her face and didn’t come out until she had calmed herself. The fog was still thick and now bright, and it was a good excuse to put on her sunglasses. The man’s name was Max. He drove, still drunk, very slowly and very carefully to the trailer park where he lived.
A line of beer bottles near his bed was either decoration or trash. While he went down on her, she tried to read the labels. The shades were closed, so it was hard to see detail. The one with the bulldog was her favorite.
She recognized it. The logo was the inspiration for the man’s poorly fashioned tattoo.
She snorted a laugh.
“Is that a good sign?”
She told him yes, even though she didn’t know the answer. “Keep going.”
Max was kind and gentle and generous. He made sure she climaxed, even though he couldn’t get an erection.
He had lost a lover too, a long time ago, out at sea. They were inseparable but never told each other how they felt. Then it was too late. The sea laid claim. It reminded Patty of a Child Ballad about a maiden who drowned in a pond and became a swan. She wanted to say his lover became a swan, but it was stupid, and she kept her mouth shut and listened. Max tried to move on after the loss and founded his own brewery, but the life that could’ve been haunted him. It played out in his mind whenever his thoughts had time to drift. The brewery went under years ago.
After his story, Patty wept and shook with rage. The exact reason, she didn’t know. Max held her and told her it was okay, that he was grateful to have her here in his bed. The days and nights had grown long. Time didn’t seem to move right anymore, like it was trying to torture him. She didn’t say anything to this. She couldn’t speak. He called her beautiful and kissed her forehead. “You don’t have to say anything. Just rest.”
They didn’t sleep. She was afraid Joseph would find her and pound on the door, that he would see her here. Her anxiety kept Max awake.
In the middle of the night, Patty said out loud, after thinking the words over and over in her head for an hour and a half, “We aren’t the same people anymore. We aren’t the people that they loved.”
“No,” Max said after a moment. “I guess we’re not.” He rolled to his side next to her body. “I’m a drunk.” His erection pressed against her hip, and then her backside as they spooned, his hardness an unspoken question she never answered.
He bid her farewell the next morning, after coffee, eggs, and an awkward silence. He wanted her to stay longer, but she insisted that she had to be on her way.
She continued north, not knowing what was over the next hill. The fog was gone, and the sun was on her face. Her grief trailed behind her like a tire track in the sand. No matter how far she rode, Joseph would be missing from all her days to come, and she would be missing from his.
Thank you for reading, “The Haunting of New Kingsport.”
For a FREE book, House of Cabal: Eden and news concerning future releases, sign up for Wesley McCraw’s mailing list .
About the Author:
Born, raised, and currently living in Oregon, Wesley McCraw writes speculative fiction. Right now he is focused on horror. Next, maybe it will be romantic, comedic fantasy.
Wes graduated from the University of Oregon, where he completed the much-acclaimed Kidd Tutorial, a one-year intensive writing clinic. During his time at the university, he was also a member of Write Club, where he trained under screenwriter Omar Naim (The Final Cut, Dead Awake).
is based on Wes’s screenplay of the same name. He plans on adapting more of his screenplays in the future, including Brief Pose, the 2011 winner of the StoryPros screenplay competition in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror category.
Wes is also working on a multi-installment epic, , and a Lovecraft-inspired Weird Fiction collection called The Queen in Yellow.
You can follow Wesley’s misadventures in self-publishing at:
and find him on twitter @wesleymccraw.