Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Of course I believe in ghosts. But, I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago. My entire experience with the paranormal began in a very abnormal way. I was bored.
It was early evening on a Thursday about three weeks ago when the shadows grew so long that they were finally noticed. The day had been warm, but the cold became purposeful as soon as the sun set. We huddled around our dinner table eating hot chili under lighted candles, something we hadn’t done since autumnal winds blew all color from the trees and fields surrounding our house.
Without warning the dog barked, a cup of milk was spilt, the buzzer on the clothes dryer startled us into a grim reality. We had nothing planned for the weekend!
Yes, there was the prospect of traveling to Moab again, but the stark allure of the desert and the towering red-rock cliffs alongside the great muddy river had become as commonplace to us as jagged mountain ridges and the fragrance of pine forests.
We were secure enough in our familiarity with it to take it for granted without guilt, and so it was natural to take that privilege. We craved something new to do.
I truly cannot explain what happened next. Speaking in tongues, I uttered words that had not passed through my mind first: “Let’s go to Meeker.”
I had only been to this tiny town once, nearly 30 years ago for a high school baseball tournament. I had not thought of it since. Meeker is on the way to nowhere. If you were lost, you would turn around long before you ever reached it.
Bewildered eyes blinked, betraying pity held behind them in imaginations wondering what had just happened to Dad. My wife was visibly worried.
“I think there’s a haunted hotel there.”
With that proclamation, which I had no idea if it was true, my family fell under the spell. Two phone calls later we had three rooms booked at the Meeker Hotel for Saturday night and my brother Steve’s family roped into the deal.
The trip began easily enough. There was the back road diversion, cutting off the beaten path north of New Castle to discover a pumpkin patch and wander through a corn field maze. We stopped at Rifle Falls to see what that was all about. We tired to cross a four-wheel drive pass to cut some time off, but got turned back by a bearded backwoodsman who was working on a hunting rifle. The road, he told us, was too long and too hard and he turned us back.
We ended up on a lonely country road, winding through hills in the dark. The lights of Meeker were a welcome sight when their yellow glow was spotted on the bottoms of a hovering cloud from 10 miles out. We arrived with no fanfare.
One pass through town revealed that we would get our dinner at either Tastee Freeze or Steak House. We chose the later as it had cleaner pick-ups parked out front.
Meeker is not the kind of town where anyone is concerned about being a “local.” You either are one or aren’t, and nobody is confused on the issue, not that it makes much difference. They don’t get enough experience with strangers to know that they should treat them poorly. Once seated, cold tap water was poured for us over crushed ice in dimpled red plastic “glasses,” just like everyone else, and we were offered a choice of either kind of beer, lite or regular.
After dinner we walked through the center of town where the only action on that cool autumnal night was a red light blinking from the middle of a wire strung diagonally across the four-way intersection. We knew it was the busiest junction in town only because the light was there, and the light is there only because it is the center of town. As to which came first there is no way of knowing. Whether the light is only turned on to commemorate Saturday evenings will remain a local secret.
A cold breeze chased us to our lodgings at the aforementioned historic Meeker Hotel. We had our choice of suites, except for the Teddy Roosevelt, which the night auditor informed us was indeed haunted. They rented it out only when absolutely necessary because none on the staff liked to spend time in there to straighten it up. A quick tour at our request proved that light colors on the walls and cheery upholstery on the antique furniture doesn’t necessarily add warmth to a room. There was something wrong in there, and I don’t know what.
The night’s repose was fitful in rooms along a creaky and inexplicably wide hallway. A neon sign flashed outside, behind the lace curtains. Although there was nobody there to see what it said, it kept up its work all night.
In that environment I tossed and turned. In my dreams, memories of my only other trip to this town returned. We’d stayed at the same hotel, but I was too busy thinking about baseball then to notice the spirits. Faces of players I knew came to me, faces I might never have seen again except that this trip shook them loose from only God knows whence. They spoke familiar words, yet I couldn’t remember their names. I tried to remember how the tournament had come out, but couldn’t recall. It had been so important at the time, too!
And it only got worse. There was a vision of proposing to my wife, the wedding, and the honeymoon. It all came to me as if on a screen too wide. The precious, small moments that I know I relish couldn’t be seen again in any detail, no matter how I struggled to bring them forth. Only a remembrance of how they felt passed by like a vapor. I tried to dream of my children’s first birthdays, their first days of school, their first words, all the small games we have played. The details floated agonizingly just out of my reach. Of all the days I have lived and loved in this life, most of it will never be seen again.
Morning didn’t come soon enough. Thankfully there was no bakery/cafe in Meeker where you can get granola crusted French toast or sip a mocha-chino while perusing local crafts displayed on the wall next to the cash register. Pancakes from the grill and a hot, black coffee were the familiarity I needed to break my malaise. I looked around the table at the smiling faces of the people I love who have followed me on this crazy journey. It was then that I knew the demons were exercised. They can only haunt you if you go back to where they originated. Bringing joy from the past is what’s important, not the ghost of every detail that created it. They can’t live in the day, only we can.
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