Somewhere, way up in the maze of beams and lofty reaches of adobe, a persistent commotion had startled me awake. Staring up from a restless sleep, these shuffling and thumping noises seemed to align with the other weird occurrences of the past few days, just another mysterious event in this strange place far from home. A glance at my watch showed it was just past midnight, well into the witching hour.
* * * * *
For a time, the road followed a wide creek bed, more dry wash then creek, until it opened up into a wider valley punctuated with rolling hills. In the middle of these hills, I arrived at a gate smothered with roses, and after punching in the code numbers I had been given, it swung open into an immense nursery of both wholesale and retail facilities.
Exotic palms and shrubbery lined the road behind the gate, and for nearly a mile I soaked in the blooming plants framed by entire hillsides painted solid lavender with wild flowers. The drive continued up a hillside thick with avocado trees, creating a darkest of green backdrop to the colorful landscape below. Strawberry fields coated the hills as they rolled to the northeast.
After traversing the avocado hill, an estate opened up at the very top, revealing substantial adobe and log structures, complete with rustic ladders set at upper levels. A pool shimmered in front of the main house, which resembled a Hopi village surrounded by cactus gardens. Across a parking area was an immense shop/garage equivalent to a three story building with a barbeque pavilion built alongside. The entire scene would blend into a mesa top pueblo in Santa Fe country.
One of the foremost wildlife art shows in the nation prided themselves with hosting their artists in the community, and this was scheduled to be my accommodations, along with another sculptor who was also traveling solo, from his home state of Texas. I arrived a day early to prepare for the show activities that would begin early Friday and commence throughout the weekend.
With a knock on the door, a tall woman with a dominating character appeared, and for a moment I thought of the tall Tehuantepec women that bustled down the streets of that far away town, dressed in their ethnic regalia of floor length skirts and colorful blouses with a cummerbund wrap in between. My new hostess, Teddy, was in her late 60’s, a lady recently widowed that seemed a bit wary of hosting artists from afar alone, so I extended my best cordial persona.
She directed me to the large shop/garage structure which she termed “the barn”, and gave me a remote for the expansive bay doors. Although there was an exterior door to the guest quarters, which encompassed the entire top floor, she lamented that “I can’t find the keys to the guest house door anywhere. You will have to enter by one of the bay doors, and follow the interior staircase up to the guest quarters.” That will be fine, I assured her, and after some details about the kitchen and laundry, I thanked her graciously and proceeded over to the imposing edifice.
Needless to say, the guest floor interior was lavish and expansive, and short of being overwhelmed by my new digs, I retreated to the main shop floor, out to the parking lot and went to work. I had the rest of the afternoon to finish up a sizable, free form eagle sculpture in cedar destined for the art show, which I commenced to work on from the back of the large Ford van that served to haul my sculptures and booth materials on the art show circuit.
Midway through this project, I heard the garage door activate, and looking around I assumed the remote had been bumped or fallen. It was still lying on the van’s bumper where I had set it. I went back to work, and again the large bay door went up on its own. This time I went inside, checked out the inside buttons for operating the doors, checked out the remote I carried, and all worked fine with no glitches.
Then began a game of off and on, up and down, as I struggled with what must be a faulty garage door remote, completely caught up in a battle of controlling the doors. Suddenly, the larger bay door began mercilessly pounding up and down in a nonstop frenzy, with no response to the remote what so ever. Determined not to be beaten by the wildly malfunctioning doors, I raced inside, picked up a piece of steel pipe and jammed it through the framework and into the door, effectively stopping it dead with a last whimper of electrical pulse. There would be no more activity from that door.
Still inside the building, I looked around at my situation. Teddy’s husband Guy [both pseudonyms] had passed away seven months earlier, and his tools and toys, including a tractor and a fishing boat, filled his big barn. The large bay door was effectively jammed shut, and the other one, which was closest to the guest quarter stairs and the door controls, was open as needed. The only other exterior door was a standard entry one of which Teddy, my hostess, had not provided a key. I thought “if that last bay door comes down and can’t be activated with the controls, I would be trapped in this dead man’s barn.”
“Welcome to the Hotel California,” I laughed to myself. “You can check out but you can never leave,” [The Eagles, 1977]. I was a complete stranger here, having been in the vicinity for a few short hours, and since I didn’t relish being trapped in this building, I kept a close eye on the remaining open door. At the same time, I did a visual sweep of where the motors and electrical lines operating the door system were located.
By now I was almost certain of paranormal activity. Midway through the battle for control, I had checked the premises for other vehicles and persons, looking behind, over, under and around the building. Seein’ is believin’ — I am a person skeptical without proof, grounded in science and knowledge, but my intellect had never been challenged by events this bizarre. I was determined to see this through.
Okay, so if there is a metaphysical entity here playing games with me, this is how I will prove it to myself. There is a tall ladder in the far corner of the shop, the motors are high up in the ceiling. If I set the ladder and disconnect the motor from electrical power, its game over, the door stays open. But if a spirit is tuned in with extra sensory perceptions, it will know my intention, and could make a move. As I nonchalantly inched over to the ladder corner, I carefully premeditated my next course of action, considering possible results and minimizing anything that could be a coincidence.
In one deliberate motion I reached for the ladder, and– immediately the door came zinging down, and I dashed outside ducking under it before it hit the cement floor.
* * * * *
When Teddy returned from her afternoon in town, I explained to her that the bay door mechanisms were amiss and that I would need a key to the entry door to the guest quarters, otherwise I would look for other accommodations. She knew I was ready to leave, and began a flurried search for the keys.
“Well, I’ll just need to get some service people up here to fix those doors,” she exclaimed during her search.”
“Probably not,” I said, trying to be reassuring without sarcasm. It was later that I confessed the full events of that afternoon, and not surprisingly, she admitted to similar erratic behavior with her garage adjoining the house.
“Alright, I’ve found the key,” she announced apologetically. “Now why don’t you come back over to the house this evening and meet some of Guy’s friends. They still come over to play pool upstairs on Guy’s weekly pool night.” It was a kindly extension of hospitality, and I readily accepted.
They were an amiable, welcoming group of guys and we racked through a few warm ups. We were friendly teams of two, but I became stymied as the games progressed. They had some different twists on the basic rules of the game and were a little too generous with advice.
My partner became particularly irksome with advice on almost every shot that I attempted. I am far from being an ace pool player, only garden variety at best, but I do have some honed skills and like anything in life, can occasionally be “on” my game. This turned out to be one of those games.
When it was my turn for a shot, after a very difficult leave, my partner openly persuaded me to try this or that. I looked at him blandly, and proceeded to call an impossible looking combination shot. I can be a risk taker, so I lined up the angles, gave the cue ball a good bead, and with a firm tap, laid the target ball in a corner pocket.
I had pulled it off, much to my own surprise. “Boy, you do know what you’re doing,” exclaimed my partner, “so much for my advice.” As I went through my paces and continued surprising myself, the thought recurred that I was filling in for Guy.
After spending the first night alone in the barn, I was relieved to welcome Darrell Davis, an easy going and pleasant bronze artist, into the paradoxical living quarters. I felt obligated to warn Darrell of the potential glitches around the building, but he shrugged off any concerns. From then on we were consumed by the whirlwind activities of a fully engaging weekend of setting up artworks, showing art, discussing the works, sealing the deals, and fulfilling the art exhibition experience. We spent minimal time at the adobe and avocado hilltop, only for late night sleep, although on those nights I did take notice of the interior lights. Sure enough, in stereotypical ghostly fashion, the morning would reveal hall lights on that were left off, and vice versus. Whatever.
Late one evening, back at the barn, Teddy showed us around the ground floor shop and to the fridge where she thought there could be some beverages. “I think I’ll have one of Guy’s beers. He likes me,” Darrell beamed. hmmmm. Teddy passed them around, and enthusiastically described the owl painting she had purchased at the Wildlife Art Exhibition. I remembered seeing the large painting by an up and coming young artist, an owl perched among agave cactus, and I was happy for her to be enjoying the show.
* * * * * *
It was well past midnight, and as I gazed up scrutinizing the high adobe ceiling, the shuffling sound became a fluttering, and then the hooting began. “Who who, huh who,” it was owls! Plural, disturbing the last night’s sleep in my version of Hotel California; the “Taj Mabarn” as the elegant tile nameplate at its entrance proclaimed. Somewhere in the overhanging eaves abundant with nooks and crannies, the hooting activity continued until the early illumination of dawn.
At the morning stir of breakfast, I asked Darrell, “Were you awakened by some owls in the night?” No was his reply, from his room he hadn’t heard a thing. A short while later, I had my van packed, said my adieus, and began the thousand mile trip homeward.
Where on Earth?! Bonsall, California