Friday, November 26, 2010

Deja Vu . . . Alll Over Again

Back in August of '09 I visited the Mountain Magnolia Inn in Hot Springs (NC) because I knew I wanted to use it as a setting for part of my book Under the Skin. I planned to let Elizabeth and her sister Gloria spend a weekend there, participating in seances and a little sisterly bonding. 

So now the book is written and I'm proof-reading the galleys -- including a seance scene set in the parlor of the inn. By one of those odd bits of synchronicity that make life so interesting, I was invited last week to attend a reception for the author Robert Morgan at the Mountain Magnolia Inn.

We sat in a circle in the same parlor where Elizabeth and her sister sat in a circle attending a seance. Mr. Morgan is a fascinating speaker but my mind kept going back to that seance and I kept half expecting . . .

So strange when my memories include fiction. 

In the excerpt (from Under the Skin) below, you can see where reality and fiction touch.

After lunch and some free time – napping or meditation was suggested, we convened in the parlor. Dark shades were drawn at the windows and a temporary drape had been rigged over the arched opening that led to a smaller room, making the room dim, but by no means dark. Once again we took our places in a ragged circle. And once again I was at the end of the sofa with Gloria on my left. The chairs had been drawn in closer to the sofa, I noticed, so that we were almost elbow to elbow.
                               Giles waited, relaxed in the wingback chair, till everyone taken a place and then, in the most matter-of–fact voice imaginable, he asked, “How many of you have ever attended a séance?”
                               Several hands went up – Dawn, Ree, and Charlene.
                               “And how many of you had satisfactory experiences?”
                               Ree’s hand came down at once. Dawn’s hand came down, started back up, then came down again.
                               Giles nodded. “That’s interesting.  Now to begin with, a few house-keeping details. We’ll be here for an hour or more – if anyone wants to visit the loo, this would be the time. And this is also the time to turn off your cell phones – right off. Not set to vibrate but entirely off.”
                               There was a fumbling in pockets and purses and several people left the room for the suggested bathroom call. People were talking to one another in low tones as Giles moved around the group, speaking to each person individually.  Gloria glanced over at me, her eyes bright with excitement.
                               “Oh, Lizzy, I’ve got such a positive feeling about this! I really think-”
                               “What about smudging?” Charlene’s strident voice caught everyone’s attention. She was offering Giles a little bundle of something that looked like dried leaves. “At the séances I’ve participated in, we always began by smudging the room to get rid of any negative energy.”
                               There was an amused look on the medium’s face. “If you like,” he said. “I don’t find it necessary but if no one here has a problem with smoke, then by all means . . .” He made a polite gesture.
                               “Oh, but shouldn’t I wait till everyone’s here – in case any one’s carrying negative energy?”
                               Negative energy. I hoped that wasn’t me. I wasn’t a believer by a long shot but I felt that I could keep an open mind. I had done so in the past . . . and I remembered the time I’d been called to a neighbor’s house to stop a nose bleed by reading a particular Bible verse.  I’d made a conscious effort to believe in what I was doing . . . or at least, not to scoff at it . . . to allow for the possibility. And it had worked. The nosebleed had stopped – whether because of or in spite of me.
                               “Elizabeth.”
                               Giles was in front of me now, bending down to speak close to my ear. “Don’t worry, Elizabeth. I feel sure that you’ll be a stronger link than you might have imagined. If you can only look past the trappings . . .”
                               He nodded toward Charlene who, now that everyone was assembled, had lit the little bundle of leaves and allowed it to flare up before she blew the flame out. Now she was waving the smoking bundle back and forth and muttering something as she walked clockwise around the room.
                               “The trappings and the terminology, as I said yesterday, are simply constructs – a way for us to deal with something far beyond our understanding.”
                               I nodded and started to say that I’d do my best but he had passed on to Steve and Dawn. It helped that Giles was so ordinary, that he didn’t spout a lot of metaphysical stuff. Or, at least, if he did spout, I could comfort myself by thinking of it as a metaphor.
                               “Thank you, Charlene,” he said as the henna-haired woman completed her circuit of the room and stood at the doorway, one hand holding back the drapes while with the other she seemed to be shooing the smoke out of the room. “Well done. And now . . .”
                               With a scant tilt of his head, he motioned her toward her chair. As he took his own, a little shiver of anticipation ran round the circle.
                               “Now,” said Giles, speaking in that low tone that had each of us straining forward to catch his words, “I should tell you that while there are many different ways to conduct a séance, my . . .” he hesitated, “my particular method has proved to be satisfactory again and again. I will ask you all to keep that in mind as we proceed.
                               “For those of you who’ve never participated in a séance, you should be aware that spirits may communicate by knocking or rapping or some other non-verbal sound. Or the spirit may speak to one of you in your mind -- and not necessarily to the one asking the question. If we’re very fortunate, the spirit may speak aloud -- through one of us.”
                               “Wait a minute. Not just through you . . . but any of us?” Steve looked alarmed at the thought and Giles hastened to assure her that it was only a remote possibility.
                                He gestured at our circle. “We’ll begin the session by joining hands. It helps us to focus but, contrary to what some believe, it’s not a requisite. As the time goes on you may find that maintaining that hand clasp is causing fatigue which is working against your concentration. If you find this happening, please, let go. It will do no harm. Are there any questions?”
                               Giles looked around the circle of expectant but silent faces. “Very well, then. We’ll begin with a few minutes of silent meditation. Each of you should concentrate on the spirit you hope to contact, as well as the question that you have for that spirit. At the end of this period of silence, I’ll ask one of you to begin and we’ll all bend our minds to trying to contact that particular spirit. Remember, we’ll have two more sessions today and two more tomorrow so there’ll be ample time for each of you.”
                               So saying, Giles put out his hands and closed his eyes. Somewhat self-consciously, the group joined hands and we began.
                               The only meditating I’ve done has been in a bathtub of hot water. And it’s been of the ‘think of nothing’ variety. But this . . . would I be a spoil sport, a big old load of “negative energy” if I didn’t try to contact someone? And which someone would it be?
                               Sam. Of course that’s who Gloria felt was the logical choice. She has said something earlier about how good it would be if I could have ‘closure’ with Sam. Maybe so.  But how strange it would seem, assuming this contact occurred, to be speaking to my beloved late husband almost on the eve of marrying his best friend.  Certainly there were unresolved questions I could ask – several battered at me. But did I want the answers? Moreover, did I want Gloria to be privy to my doubts?       
                               No, I did not. Sam, wherever he was, would not be on my calling list. But then, who . . . ?   My mother . . . no . . . Papa . . . oh, how tempting, but, again, too personal. And for all I knew, he could still be alive – no point seeking someone who hadn’t crossed over, as they say.
                               At last I settled on Gramma. If anyone was going to speak to me or send me a message, I thought I’d like it to be Gramma. So I composed myself to meditate on Gramma, her comfortable plump figure, usually with an apron over her dress, her soft brown eyes, her . . . and I wandered off into days of remembered bliss . . . Gramma  . . . Gramma . .  .
                               “Let’s bring our meditation to a close now. We’ll begin by all concentrating on the spirit that Xan is hoping to contact. Xan, will you give us the name?”
                                I opened my eyes to see Xan, quivering like a greyhound as Giles looked at him. Xan took a deep breath and made his request.
                               “My brother . . .  my brother Rob.  Robert MacNaughten.”
                               “Thank you, Xan.”  Again Giles’s gaze swept round the circle. “Let us all hold that name in our minds and silently ask Robert to come among us.”
                               And so we did. At least, I did. Mindlessly concentrating on the name Robert MacNaughten, over and over, I could feel Glory’s hand trembling in my left hand and Dawn’s, still and icy in my right. Somewhere in the distance I heard the muffled rattle of a diesel truck starting and forced myself back to the task at hand.
                               Robert MacNaughten, Robert MacNaughten. . . Beneath this mantra ran a magpie jumble of thought MacNaughten sounds Scottish, Xan must be short for Alexander. . .  Robert MacNaughten, Robert MacNaughten, Xan wants to talk to you. . .  I wonder if this is an older or younger brother we’re calling and how long he’s been dead. Oh hell, I’m wandering .   . .  Robert MacNaughten, Robert MacNaughten . . .
                               I had closed my eyes in order to concentrate better but the absence of sight only seemed to sharpen all my other senses: the sound of the group’s breathing and the prissy little sniff that appeared to be habitual with Dawn, the lingering smell of the smoke from the burning sage of the smudge bundle . . . dammit, I’m wandering again . . . Robert MacNaughten, Robert MacNaughten . . .
                               What happened next is hard to describe. At last my busy mind shut down and it was as if the words Robert MacNaughten were being played on a continuous loop. I was conscious of nothing more than the fact that my breathing had become very slow and  steady and I had the feeling of being connected to something – almost as if I were a conduit of some sort. There was a central core of empty space and my being was wrapped around it and I was cherishing it and protecting it even as the words Robert MacNaughten pulsed through that core and . . .
                               A cascade of sound erupted from the piano standing in the bay of the room, a glissando – if that was the word for a tumble of notes from high to low, as if the pianist had run his thumbnail along the piano keys -- and my eyes popped open and my head turned in the direction of the sound.
                               Again and again, an unseen hand made the instrument ring out. The notes crowded upon one another, deafening, maddening, till I felt that I would have to cover my ears but just as they seemed to reach an unbearable frenzy, Giles spoke.
                               “Robert, thank you for joining us. Xan is here. Will you speak with your brother? One note for yes, two for no.”
                               All eyes were turned toward the piano and I heard a muffled sob that must have come from Xan. “Rob,” he begged, “Rob, will you-”
                               A single plangent note rang out, reverberating in the stillness of the dim room.

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10 comments:

Miss_Yves said...

Lovely lonely place in the afternoon...perhaps stranger at night!

Miss_Yves said...

at night...when the spirits appear!

NCmountainwoman said...

"Almost on the eve of marrying his best friend..."? Wait a minute. Didn't Elizabeth listen to what Aunt Dodie said?

I love the way your memories include the fiction you write. No doubt you live with the characters so long they do indeed become memories. Glad to have a little taste of the new book. I was a bit disappointed that no preview was included in "Small Things."

Star said...

Very interesting. I expect your characters are very close to you at all times, aren't they Vicki. I liked your pictures of the big house.
Blessings, Star

Vicki Lane said...

NCMountainwoman -- we're only partway through the book here -- still time for things to change...

Merisi said...

Great story!

Liz said...

I love the Mountain Magnolia Inn. It was the very first place we stayed in Madison County. I love the history of the building and the fact that in the 60's they cut off the top floors and ended up with a "Victorian ranch" until the recent restoration returned it to its previous beauty. There's a lock of hair in a little box in the main parlor that is said to be from a Civil War soldier. The first night we stayed there we were awakened at 3am to the train that sounded like it was coming right through our room! The next night we barely noticed it!

Kath said...

Very compelling. Wow!
And very different from my own experience.
Kath

jennyfreckles said...

It looks like a place that has seen a lot, and your story just fits with that room.

Tipper said...

Kinda spooky isn't it-I can't wait for the book!!!