Yes, it’s still a little ways away before the end of September and the release of Raven’s Rest, but here’s a little taste to whet your appetite.
There was nothing about the inn, other than its somewhat evocative name, to suggest that dark secrets were housed within. I first saw the Raven’s Rest in the early twilight hours, and to me it looked like heaven. The Raven’s Rest Inn gave a homey impression: a large white building, a former farmhouse that had been added on to over the years. Here, the house seemed to say, you can find peace and tranquility. It beckoned to the weary traveler, offering solace from the hustle and bustle of the city. The perfect place to get away.
And getting away was just what I needed to do.
Escape might be a more apt word.
I sat in my car in the parking lot, holding in my hand the brochure for the Raven’s Rest Inn that I’d picked up at a rest stop along the highway. I’d switched the engine off, but I hesitated before getting out and going inside. There was no longer enough light to read, but I’d already perused the pamphlet enough times that I knew the basic contents by heart. The Raven’s Rest boasted eleven suites, perfect for the traveling businessman or the vacationer who wanted to enjoy the sights and shopping available in the town of Banning, Illinois. I gazed out the window at the Halloween decorations near the entrance. Orange lights outlined the doorway, and a candlelit jack-o’-lantern was positioned to one side of the steps, its flame guttering slightly from the evening breeze. Fake tombstones adorned the lawn, and a white-sheeted ghost hung from the branch of a large oak tree, either welcoming guests or warning them to stay away, I wasn’t sure which.
I’d first tried the Holiday Inn just off the freeway, but they were booked solid. The manager on duty had been good enough, however, to check to see if any rooms were vacant in the vicinity. Due to a last-minute cancellation, he told me, I could stay at the Raven’s Rest Inn, just outside of town. He even provided me with directions. Maybe he saw something in my eyes that made him take pity on me, or maybe he was just always so accommodating.
The trouble was, this place looked like it would be a tad more expensive than a Motel 6 or the Holiday Inn. And while I had enough money in my bank account to last me a couple of months, I didn’t know how long I’d have to stay at the Raven’s Rest. It could be weeks, and unless they made me a deal, that might cut one hell of a chunk out of my bankroll.
On the other hand, if Kevin came looking for me, he’d never think to check this place out. He knew my frugal nature, and he’d never think of looking for me at a fancy joint like the Raven’s Rest.
My heart was beating fast, and I could feel a panic attack approaching. Forcing deep breaths, I chanted, “You can do this, Michael. You can do this.”
Could I? Yes, I could. I had to.
I tossed the pamphlet onto the passenger seat and got out of the car, my mind made up. After all, I was starting a new phase of my life. I might as well do things right.
Besides, I deserved a little luxury. I’d put up with Kevin for five years, hadn’t I?
As I made my way to the front entrance, the inn seemed to be speaking to me, telling me I’d made the right decision. Welcome, an imaginary voice said inside my head. We want you to feel like the Raven’s Rest is your home. Stay as long as you like. We’ll protect you.
If Kevin really did try to find me, I’d need protecting.
The mere thought of what he’d do if he located me made my knees weak, but somehow I made it up the steps to the porch. The jack-o’-lantern grinned eerily at me.
Inside, the atmosphere was warm and friendly. The owners had gone to some pains to make the Raven’s Rest look as little like an inn as possible. In many ways, I could have been walking into someone’s private home. The check-in desk was small and positioned off to the side, so as to lessen its visual impact. What I saw first was a grand staircase, the banisters festooned with black-and-orange crepe paper in honor of the coming holiday, hardwood floors polished to a shine, and clean white walls with plenty of framed pictures. Most of the photographs were of the inn itself, showing it during different times in its history.
Behind the desk was a tall, thin, young black man. I myself was pretty tall, but he towered over me, so he had to be at least six foot four. And when I said thin, I meant almost skeletal. But he had a welcoming grin on his face that extended to his eyes, as if he genuinely was pleased to see me.
“Welcome to the Raven’s Rest,” he said. “How can I help you?”
A sudden, gripping fear seized me. Did I really have the nerve to go through with this? I knew not a soul in Banning. I had no job and no prospects. If I went back now, maybe Kevin wouldn’t be too angry. True, I’d have to endure his tirades for months to come, but maybe they wouldn’t be so bad.
No. A new life. A new start.