A short story in honor of April Fool’s Day. A seasoned assassin finds her breach of etiquette isn’t the only snafu at a friend’s party.
I checked the address written on my invitation, and then the sign near the door. The Rose Petal Tea Room. This was the place. A brand new building plopped down in the middle of town, next to a strip mall, made to look old with its shabby chic white shutters and ivy starting to crawl up pink walls. Rachel would have called the color cheerful. It reminded me of that pink medicine you take when you’ve got the runs. Diarrhea pink, I decided.
Even before entering the restaurant, I felt a looming sense of doom. I could already tell—this event was not going to be my cup of tea. Normally, I wouldn’t frequent a place like this, unless it was for a job. My discomfort deepened when I entered the tiny boutique at the front of the tea room. Shelves lined the walls, and on every inch was something pretty and fragile—delicate tea cups and saucers, tea pots covered in roses and other flowers, and small porcelain figurines of women in Victorian dress. It was like standing in my grandma’s living room. Not that I don’t love my grandma, but I’ve never been able to relax when I visit. I’m not a large woman, but in her tiny house, I feel like a lumbering giant, clumsy and stupid—I’m that worried about breaking something.
There was a “Please wait to be seated” sign barring the entrance to the rest of the restaurant. I waited there obediently, checking the time. I was five minutes early, so that was good. Through the arched doorway I could see the hostess seating a gaggle of elderly women, all of them sporting gaudy purple hats with wide brims and red ribbons. Darn, I thought, forgot mine at home.
The hostess, a wholesome looking woman with a complicated updo and a pearl necklace, returned to her station. She looked mildly alarmed to see me, which did nothing to ease my own sense of being out of my element. “May I help you?”
Since she was acting like I came to rob the place, I gave her a smile and took my hands out of my jacket pockets so she’d see I was unarmed. “Yes, I’m here for a bridal shower. I believe the reservation is under Rachel Anderson.”
The woman scanned the list at her podium, and frowned. “I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s no reservation for Ms. Anderson.” She looked me over again. “Are you sure you have the right place?”
I was starting to question that too, so I retrieved the invitation from my pocket and showed it to her. “Rose Petal Tea Room, two o’clock.” I was surprised I hadn’t seen Rachel coming through the door yet—it was her party after all. The hostess glanced over at the clock above the archway. “I’m a little early,” I apologized, not sure why I was doing it. I thought it was good etiquette to arrive on time, if not a little early, but maybe I should have been fashionably late.
The woman looked over her papers again. I caught a glimpse of a seating chart. “Well, I can go ahead and seat you, and then bring your friend over when she arrives.”
“There might be a few of us,” I said. I had no idea how many people were supposed to come.
She nodded. “That’s quite all right. We’ll move your party to a larger table if need be. Your name?”
The hostess wrote my name on the chart and grabbed a menu from beneath the podium. “Thank you. This way, Ms. Connors.”
She seated me in the middle of the tea room, fussed with the tableware for a moment, and then returned to her station to greet some women who had just arrived. I looked for Rachel but didn’t see her among them. I scanned the large room, hoping to recognize a familiar face among the lace tablecloths and pastoral landscapes that looked as though they were of the English countryside.
It was then I realized why the hostess had acted strange when she saw me. I’d committed several major faux pas with my wardrobe. One, I was dressed all in black: black skinnies, black t-shirt, black moto jacket and boots. The other patrons hadn’t even risked a little black dress. I was drowning in a sea of pastels. Two, I was the only one wearing pants. I owned exactly one dress, and that was only because I’d been coerced into being a bridesmaid. I had an idea it was bad form to wear the same dress to the bridal shower and the wedding, so my single dress was hanging in my closet, awaiting Rachel’s big day. Three, my hair was slicked back and woven into a tight braid, which is good form in my line of work. Intricate updos and soft flowing locks, like the ones I was seeing in the tea room, could get a girl killed. I’d learned pretty fast that in a fight, you pull back your hair and you never wear earrings. Not if you want your earlobes to remain intact. Against all those blush pink, baby blue, and mint green dresses, the only way I would have stood out more was if I were a three-hundred pound biker with a beard covering half his face and tattoos covering the other half. I was glad my own tattoo was safely covered. Wouldn’t want to have to use smelling salts on anyone.
I checked the time again—it was now fifteen minutes after two. Where was Rachel? I considered leaving when I saw her sister Stephanie headed from the ladies room down a hallway. I jumped up from my chair, careful to push it back in so no one would give me a dirty look, and then followed her.
As I entered a room draped in lacy bridal decorations, I finally caught sight of my friend, sitting at the head of the table, surrounded by women dressed nothing like me. Rachel stood up and gave me a bright smile. “You came!” She crossed the room to wrap me in a hug.
I’d do anything for Rachel, even bear haughty looks from her future mother-in-law, Mrs. Rollins, and the maid of honor, Elizabeth Whitney. Something clicked into place. That was why the hostess hadn’t found Rachel’s name. The reservation must have been under Elizabeth’s. “Sorry I’m late,” I whispered to Rachel.
“Just glad you’re here,” she said. We’d been close since college, when we went through a few scrapes together. Not the kind of stories you share with polite company, since they involved actual blood being shed. I found it amusing no one in the room knew about our sordid past, but I wasn’t about to ruin the party by sharing those secrets. Rachel’s reputation was soiled enough just by associating with me.
Rachel took my hand. “Come on. I saved you a seat.” She led me to the chair next to hers, and I settled in, avoiding eye contact with everyone else. “We were about to eat.”
A server, holding a large platter, set the tray on a stand and began placing dishes around the table. “Glad you could make it,” Elizabeth said, from across the table. She held out an elegantly manicured hand. I shook it with a firm grip, my own nails short and unpainted. “Megan, was it?” she asked.
As I released her hand, I tried to hide my annoyance. We’d met on a few occasions, but every time, Elizabeth acted like she’d never seen me before. I smiled sweetly. “Morgan. And you’re Liz, right?”
She scowled, placing her napkin in her lap. “Elizabeth. Never Liz.”
Rachel shot me a warning look, but I could tell she was hiding a laugh. I gave her a sly smile. I didn’t know what she saw in Elizabeth, but then again, I wasn’t sure what she saw in me either. I was just glad I hadn’t been tagged as maid of honor and forced to pull off a fancy party like this. I had skills a woman like Elizabeth couldn’t imagine, but I had to concede—she was a better choice for a shindig worthy of its own social media following.
The server set a plate in front of me, which held five tiny sandwiches. I use the term sandwich loosely—they were more like round slices of bread about the size of a half-dollar, filled with green stuff of unknown origin. I picked one up as delicately as I could manage and chanced a bite, chewing slowly. The mystery filling wasn’t bad, something with spinach and garlic I thought. My stomach growled, louder than I would have liked. I stole a look at the other women, doing more chatting than eating. I popped a second sandwich in my mouth. Would it be poor etiquette to request seconds? I’d kill for a fat, juicy cheeseburger.
“And what is it you do, Morgan?” Mrs. Rollins asked me. Like the hostess out front, she was wearing pearls, and her hair was twisted into a French roll.
I looked at Rachel. This was always the hardest part—explaining what, exactly, I did for a living. She nodded, and I said, “People come to me with problems, and I make them go away.” Vague, but I couldn’t explain it better without fear of making Mrs. Rollins queasy.
Rachel’s mom-in-law-to-be looked intrigued. “What sort of problems?”
Elizabeth-never-Liz chimed in. “Rachel said you were an exterminator.”
I raised an eyebrow at Rachel, and she shrugged. Exterminator was technically correct, but the preferred term was assassin. Still, hunting down nasty characters for pay wasn’t something everyone could accept. “Pest control,” I agreed. I took a sip of tea, hoping Mrs. Rollins’ curiosity was satisfied.
I was saved from further interrogation by a cake.
Another server entered the room, carrying an elaborately iced dessert, topped with edible flowers. She placed the cake in front of Rachel while several of the ladies applauded in approval. Rachel beamed at Elizabeth as the server prepared to slice the cake.
Then the flowers on the cake moved. I stared as they pulsed, as though something were wriggling inside the confection, trying to climb out. And it did.
A brown, rat-like face surfaced, popping out of the icing to peer up at Rachel, a pink and yellow hibiscus still balanced precariously on top of its head.
“A rat!” Mrs. Rollins shrieked. She pushed back from the table and climbed on top of her chair with an agility you wouldn’t expect from a woman in her sixties. Fear is a powerful thing.
The rest of us looked on in surprise. The cake crumbled as three other figures burst forth. They were tiny, hairy things, standing up on their hind legs and hunched over in a way that made it easy to mistake them for rodents. Except some of them were wearing clothes. Primitive looking vests and scarves, yes, but clothes nonetheless. Not rats. Boggarts. I’d tangled with malicious house spirits like these before.
The one in the velvety green vest launched itself at Elizabeth’s face, sending her backwards in her chair, head over red-soled Louboutins. It looked like Mrs. Rollins was going to find out what I did for a living after all. I leapt up from my seat and grabbed the table salt, screwing off the top as I rounded the table.
Elizabeth lay sprawled on the floor, her screams muffled by her long, pleated skirt, which was hiked up over her head. I yanked the skirt off her face to find her clawing at the hairy little monster biting her. I upended the salt container on the boggart, and it popped like a balloon, drenching Elizabeth with dark slime. I was handing her a cloth napkin to wipe off the goo when I heard Rachel yelling.
I turned to see my friend dancing in a circle, pounding herself on the back of her head. It almost looked comical, except for the nasty little beast pulling her hair. The boggart with the scarf had entangled itself in her chignon, no doubt attracted by the rhinestones in her hair pins. Like other faeryfolk, boggarts like shiny things.
What they don’t like is iron, and I had a horseshoe in my jacket pocket, which I carried for just such an occasion. Okay, I’d never been in a situation quite like this, but you get the idea. This kind of thing happens more than you’d think, and it’s good to be prepared. You might want to take notes.
I held the ends of the horseshoe up to the boggart. It howled, a kind of guttural growl as the iron burned its flesh. It didn’t explode like the first boggart, so I grabbed a fork off the table and skewered it, working it free of Rachel’s hair. She seemed unharmed, but the boggart began to melt, curling its body around the silver-plated utensil. I tossed it on the ground and scanned the room for the other two creatures.
One was shoving frosting in its mouth while the other taunted Mrs. Rollins and the other ladies, most of whom had joined her on their chairs. The server had backed up against the wall, her face frozen in a look of horror.
I grabbed the tea pot from the middle of the table and forced the two boggarts inside, pushing them along with the horseshoe. They clawed at me, but the toxic iron did the trick, persuading them to submit. I dropped in a little St. John’s Wort, retrieved from another pocket in my jacket, replaced the lid on the teapot, and let them steep in the mixture. They wouldn’t be bothering anyone else.
I checked on Elizabeth, who had gained her feet. She’d managed to get most of the slime off her face, but her nose was bloody and looked like it had been gnawed on. Nothing a good plastic surgeon couldn’t fix. She nodded to me, not quite a thank you, but I’d take it. I couldn’t fault her for being too shaken to express a full appreciation for my talents.
As I helped a still trembling Mrs. Rollins down from her chair, she said, “An exterminator, you say?”
“Something like that.”
She gave me a grateful smile. “I’m glad you came, Morgan.”
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
The mouth of the Columbia River is a dangerous place. The bar is so deadly, it’s been dubbed the Graveyard of the Pacific. Hundreds of ships have wrecked at the Columbia Bar, thanks to the fire hose force of the river mixing with tumultuous ocean waves. Add in gale force winds and constantly shifting sand bars, and you can see why this part of the world is so wild.
It’s wild in other ways too. Orcas frequent the mouth of the river, feasting on salmon. Great White sharks cruise the coastline, hunting seals. Humpback whales have been spotted 14 miles inland, near the Astoria-Megler bridge. This towering green bridge spans the four-mile-wide river, connecting Oregon to Washington. The Columbia River is also rumored to be home to a sea monster.
Colossal Claude has been described as being about 40 feet long, including an eight-foot-long neck. Its body is said to be round, ending in a tail. The beast’s head has been alternately described as looking like a maned camel, or having an “evil, snaky look.” Some people believe the creature resembles a plesiosaur, comparing it to the Loch Ness Monster.
One of the first reported sightings of the monster was in 1934, by the crew of the Columbia River Lightship, a floating lighthouse. As the story goes, the crew observed the animal for some time using binoculars. They wanted to take a lifeboat out to get a better look at the creature, but officers denied the request out of worry the beast would capsize the small boat.
Three years later, another crew reported seeing the creature. Skipper Charles E. Graham on the commercial fishing trawler Viv provided a hauntingly similar description to what the crew of the lightship had reported. Around the same time, about 150 miles down the Oregon coast, near a rocky area known as the Devil’s Churn (south of Yachats), a couple reported seeing a similar animal.
In 1939, the crew of the Argo, another fishing vessel, got a close encounter near the mouth of the Columbia when the creature reared up over ten feet above the water. It watched them calmly as it took a twenty-pound halibut of the ship’s lines and ate it. According to the ship’s captain, Chris Andersen, the creature’s “head was like a camel’s. His fur was coarse and gray. He had glassy eyes and a bent snout.”
The description of Claude having fur makes me wonder if the creature could be some kind of long-necked seal (assuming it actually exists). The waters of the Columbia and the Pacific are frigid, but marine mammals thrive here. Our river is teeming with fish and both seals and sea lions make their homes in the river and along the coastline.
The water is much too cold for a marine reptile, but the idea of a plesiosaur on the Oregon coast is not that outlandish. In 2003, paleontologists discovered a plesiosaur skull near Mitchell, Oregon. This 25-foot-long reptile lived about 80 to 90 million years ago. Called the “Tiger of the Cretaceous Seas,” it was a top predator and a powerful swimmer. There’s a deep trench at the mouth of the Columbia. It is possible a similar creature could have survived and remained hidden, except for rare sightings?
Here’s something else to consider. Colossal Claude isn’t the only sea monster in the Pacific Northwest. There’s also Caddy (short for Cadborosaurus), a sea serpent allegedly living in Cadboro Bay in Greater Victoria, British Columbia. Then there’s the Ogopogo, a similar creature in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Both Caddy and Ogopogo are described as having horse-like heads and long necks. There have been over 300 reported sightings of Caddy, and the creature is often described as having anterior and posterior flippers. Interestingly, a Caddy-like creature has been found within the legends of indigenous people throughout the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver to Alaska. The Inuit people put a picture of the creature on their canoes to keep it away.
What do you think? Does Colossal Claude exist? I don’t know if it does, but I have a feeling there are still a few mysteries lurking under the surface of the Columbia River.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
Urban legends never cease to interest me. There are the old standbys you’ve probably heard before, like the killer who escapes from prison and has a hook for a hand. Or the one about the girl who is driving on a lonely road one dark night when someone starts tailgating her, flashing their car’s high beams. When she finally gets home and runs into her house to escape the weirdo following her, she finds out the guy driving the car wasn’t a psycho after all, but actually saved her life. Because there was a man in her backseat, you see, a man with a knife. Every time the man was about to stab her, the hero flashed his high beams and the man ducked back down behind the driver’s seat. These stories get passed down from a friend of a friend of a friend, and they must be true, because they happened to somebody’s cousin or aunt.
Here’s one you might not have heard before. On the northern Oregon coast, where the Oregon Coast Highway meets the Sunset Highway (the junction of the 101 and 26), there lives a legend. “Lives” might not be accurate, because no one knows if the Bandage Man is alive or dead. Perhaps he’s undead.
As the story goes, one night a young Cannon Beach couple went out for a drive in pickup truck and parked in the forest near the junction. They weren’t paying a lot of attention to what was going on outside the vehicle because they were busy doing the kinds of things teenagers do in parked cars. You know, gaze at the stars. (Teenagers are really fond of astronomy.) Anyway, all of a sudden, the truck jounced a little, like someone had climbed into the bed of the truck. Then, BAM! Somebody banged on the back window.
The young couple turned to see a crazy man wrapped in bandages, slamming his fists against the window of the truck, trying to get in. So they did what any sane person would do. They freaked out. Then they drove off, back to the city of Cannon Beach. By the time the boyfriend got to the girlfriend’s house to see her safely home, the bandaged man had vanished. But when the boyfriend peeked into the bed of his truck, he found a piece of gauze much like the man’s bloody wrappings. And it stank like death.
So what is the Bandage Man? A reanimated mummy? Unlikely. A ghost? Maybe. Some people say it’s the ghost of a logger who was horribly burned and wrapped in bandages before he died. If you drive in that area at night, he might just hitch a ride, and you’ll find out who—or what—he really is.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
You see sasquatch everywhere in the Pacific Northwest (as an icon, at least). On the Oregon coast, we’ve got Bigfoot’s Steakhouse, and the Elderberry Inn on the Sunset Highway sports the silhouette of a sasquatch next to a giant frying pan. Camp 18, another restaurant along the same highway, is known for its logging museum and carved sculptures. Among these are two sasquatch statues.
A fellow author who has written about sasquatch once told me the area around Camp 18 is a sasquatch hotspot, with a number of sightings having been reported over the years. I can understand why—halfway between Portland and the coast, the restaurant sits in the middle of a vast forest in the Coast Range.
As you drive along the highway, you can see swathes of open land, where timber has been harvested. For the most part, however, the mountains are still pristine, some areas seemingly impassable because they are so overgrown with trees and vegetation. It’s easy to imagine large animals thriving unseen in these wild places.
I have never seen bigfoot in those woods (or anywhere else), but I think it’s possible a large animal could exist in a place like that and be seen only rarely. Bears, wolves, and mountain lions live in our forests, but I’ve never seen any of those animals up close, though I’ve been hiking trails on the coast for nearly five years. I have seen plenty of elk, deer, and raccoons, but no sasquatch.
It seems other people have seen something though. If you go to OregonBigfoot.com and search by county, you can read about alleged sightings and get a clear idea about where they occurred. I don’t know how many, if any, of the reports are credible, but I’ll give you this: it is eerie to read about sightings occurring in places I’ve hiked.
Evidence about sasquatch has never been accepted by the scientific community, but I’m fascinated by the legends, especially those from indigenous people. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have acknowledged sasquatch’s existence for centuries. Skookum, a word referring to spirits, was also used to describe sasquatch. There are stories about Basket Woman, a cannibal ogress who kidnapped children and put them in her basket. I don’t know how hairy she was, but it’s interesting that she was a giant. And, of course, there is Ape Canyon at Mount St. Helens, where a number of sasquatch sightings have been reported.
I don’t know if sasquatch exists, but I would like to think it does. I love the idea that there are still puzzles to be solved, that, in spite of all our technological advances and global exploration, mysteries remain.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
My grandmother used to tell me stories about a ghost named Ella, who liked to fix things. Apparently the same spirit haunted my great-grandfather, following him from house to house. Can ghosts be inherited, passed along like a family heirloom? It’s a disconcerting thought. I don’t have an answer, but it’s always interesting to chat with my family and compare notes. We’ve had some strange experiences.
This week my aunt shared a story with me about something that happened to her when she was twelve or thirteen. She and her family lived out on a farm, and one night they were all sitting in the living room, watching TV. During a commercial break, she went to her room to get something. She planned a quick in and out trip since she knew just what she was after and where it was. She didn’t turn on her bedroom light (though she now says she always turns on the light, and I can’t say I blame her). She headed straight to her dresser, which was situated next to the closet.
As she reached out her hand to retrieve the item she had come for, she felt pressure on her left shoulder. She froze, and then heard a hissing whisper. “Suuuusssaaannnn.” What is weird is my aunt is deaf in her left ear, and yet, she clearly heard the voice. She said she remembered fighting back panic, and then getting angry. She thought, “I will not show fear,” even though her insides had turned to Jello. She drew herself up as tall as she could, squared her shoulders, and forced herself to stand there. She grabbed the object she had come for and then calmly turned and went back out to the living room. Her family was still sitting there, watching TV, completely unaware of her encounter with the thing in her closet. My grandfather is known for playful attempts to surprise people, so my aunt asked him if he had tried to scare her. He insisted it wasn’t him, and my grandmother and my dad backed up his story.
Oddly enough, I had something similar happen to me at around that same age. Nothing touched me, but one night when I was in bed, I thought I heard my dad call my name. Something about the voice wasn’t right though—it sounded like my dad at first, but then I realized it sounded hollow, more like someone imitating my dad’s voice. I knew my dad was downstairs, talking to my mom, but the voice sounded like someone was right there in the room with me. I got a strange feeling that someone was hiding behind my closet door, which was propped open. That freaked me out, so I went downstairs to see if Dad had called me. He hadn’t.
The question remains: what called out to us? Could it have been the same entity, even though our encounters happened decades apart and in different places? I don’t know, but it is weird that we had similar experiences. This is why neither of us sleeps with the closet door open.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015