Show Notes & Transcript
Swans don't have teeth; at least most don't.
Welcome, weary travelers, to The Inn Between. Join Gabriela Jones, a recent botany undergrad, in her new job as Innkeeper near the rural town of Shearwater.
This episode’s guestbook entry is an excerpt from Pacific Northwest: Daydreams and Paintings by Mary B. Truly!
Mary B. Truly has been painting for a while. It’s how she herself and others smile. She has traveled the country from Maryland, Mountains trees, rivers, sea, and sand. Seeing the states far and wide, Letting nature be her guide. When inspiration finders her, she must act soon. It may come from anywhere, under the sun or moon.
Huge thanks Mary, for letting me read your work aloud! You can find Mary’s books and artwork at marybtruly.com.
LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This podcast is inspired by and recorded on the Indigenous lands of the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest. We celebrate and honor these ancestral lands and their stewards--past, present, and future.
THEME MUSIC: Yonder Dale / Tiny Surprises / courtesy of www.epidemicsound.com
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Welcome, weary travelers, I’m Gabriela Jones, the new innkeeper of The Inn Between, where the trees are green, the rooms are cozy, and the guests are sometimes a little bit strange and borderline creepy. Whether you’re listening for the first time or have been here before, come on in and prop up your feet-metaphorically speaking of course—and pour yourself a cup of coffee.
I invite you, dear listeners, to close your eyes, and picture a swan—the long neck, the downy white feathers, the glide across the lake, the essence of grace. If you are fond of that image and the feelings it stirs up for you, I suggest not listening any further because I for one don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a swan the same way ever again.
But before we get to that, after the last episode, I’ve gotten more than just a few people commenting that they are concerned for my welfare. I’m not sure all the fuss is about. So I would like the record to state loud and clear that the goats are fine, I’m fine, for the last time Mom I am not on drugs or anything else that might embarrass you. Everything is going just alright, or at least it was…And now I’m kinda second-guessing my decision to tell you about what happened most recently. But umm here we go:
It began late afternoon on an overcast day with a knock on the door. This is odd because of course it’s an inn, so there’s no need to knock, but the knocking continued, so expecting a postman or something, I got up from behind the front desk and opened the door. But no one was there. At least no person was, not at the time anyway.
No, sitting on the doormat was, you may have guessed it, a swan.
I didn’t think much of it at first, seeing as wild birds and waterfowl frequent the yard. Just last week, I saw a considerable flock of Canadian geese. But there was something different about this swan, beyond the fact that it had apparently waddled up and rapped on the door. No there was something strange about it, that I couldn’t put my finger on. It looked at me expectantly with dark eyes that might have had a slight red tint to them.
Still, it was just swan, just migrating waterfowl, so without much more thought, I shrugged and closed the door.
I was in the kitchen chopping cucumbers for dinner when another knock came at the back door. Going outside again, I was greeted once more by the swan who looked at me shrewdly and gave me what only can be described as a haughty quack.
“Shoo,” I said, waving my hand and going to shut the door.
Then I noticed the silver chain hanging around its neck.
Mindful of not getting too close, I bent over to get a better look. The chain was some kind of ornate collar, more like a necklace really, save for the little metal tag hanging off of it that read, “Bella.”
Obviously then, the swan was someone’s lost pet, and knowing myself how awful it is to have a misplaced pet, especially after the recent incident with the goats, the least I could do was offer the poor thing shelter till I could reunite her with her owner. I carefully scooped the bird up. She fluffed her feathers a little but was otherwise still as I tucked her under my arm.
“Come on then, Bella,” I said, walking towards the barn.
Suddenly, Dog shot out of whatever bush he was sleeping in, charging straight towards us. Bella the swan remained unfeathered in my arms, but Dog skidded stop just shy of us, with his eyes intent on the bird, and began to bark his head off. The swan only squawked in response once, with what I imagined to be a sort of smug look.
“Stop it, Dog,” I said.
He did—somewhat anyway. He growled and chuffed the whole way as he followed us out to the barn. While he didn’t attempt to come in, he immediately sat outside and sulked.
I set the swan down on the haybales and gave it a bowl of water to drink. Satisfied, I said aloud that it should stay here while I looked for whoever it was she belonged to.
I perched myself at the front desk area all the next morning, nervously asking anyone who came by if they were missing a pet swan. They all gave me a funny look, mumbled no, then quickly shuffled away.
“People keep swans?” said one lady to her husband after they walked off.
“Geez people can have just about anything as a pet these days,” said her husband.
By the time the afternoon rolled around, the knocking had returned at the door.
“Hello Bella,” I said. She quacked at me then looked around my legs, peering into the house.
“Nope, let’s get you back to the barn,” I said, picking her up. Dog was also waiting at the bottom of the porch, growling at the swan and snorting in irritation. The swan hissed and I thought I saw a flash of teeth inside its beak. But that was crazy of course because swans don’t have teeth.
At least, normal swans don’t.
When I got back to the house, I called the humane society, asking if anyone was missing a swan and if they could help me locate the owner. They told me that they do not take swans and to try the wildlife department. The wildlife department listened to my story then told me that they only deal in wild swans and hung up the phone. So I called Nancy, the general store owner who knows just about everything there is to know about the small town of Shearwater and surely would know if anyone kept domesticated swans.
“Sorry lass,” she said. “I don’t think anyone around here keeps swans.”
“I really don’t know what to do with this thing,” I said into the phone.
“Most would say a swan is a good sign. Give it a little more time,” she said encouragingly. “I’m sure it’ll sort itself out.”
As always, Nancy is never wrong. Though I don’t think what happened next was quite what she meant.
All afternoon, Bella reappeared at the back door. Not just once, not just twice, not even three times. It seemed like basically every twenty minutes, Bella was back knocking on the door. Any attempts to ignore her ended with her shrieking loudly and the dog howling, and the noise was so long and loud that I could not allow it to continue with other people on the property.
So back and forth I went between the house and the barn with the giant white bird tucked under my arm.
By the end of the day, I was pretty exhausted.
So when the rap, rap, rap came at the door, I knew I was done for.
“Alright, Bella, come on in,” I said, holding the door open and standing aside. The swan waddled forward, her head held high in glorious triumph, while the Dog whined at the bottom of the stairs.
“Not another sound,” I said to him sharply. With a sniff, he sulked away.
I quickly smuggled the bird up to my room, and using spare towels, make a sort of makeshift nest for her to rest in, reasoning that if she made a mess, I’d be the one to clean it up anyway. The bird seemed satisfied as she settled down and lay still.
I flopped down onto my bed, fully clothed, and within seconds, fell soundly asleep.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stay that way for long.
I woke up to a long, drawn-out howl somewhere deep in the woods. Feeling the weight of my shoes still on my feet, I sat up and began to unlace them. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I glanced down at the towels on the floor. The nest was empty.
“Bella?” I said.
A quiet laugh came from the other side of me. “Yes?” said a voice.
I jumped, one of my hands flying to my throat in surprise.
A woman, with a huge smirk, lay curled on the edge of my bed, hands behind her head, feet dangling off the edge. In the dark, I could make out her lips pressed together in amusement, her silent laughter shaking the bed. We sat there for a moment in silence, and I felt certain that both of us were listening to my heartbeat.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” I said.
“Waiting for someone,” she said. “He’s late, but he should be here soon.”
“No, not what are you doing here, what are you doing here in my bedroom?”
“Well, it’s comfortable, and you do smell so good.”
Her eyes closed and she inhaled deeply. I squirmed and studied her face, which was heart-shaped and notably pale, framed by straight brown hair.
“Yeah, I finally understand what he means,” she said opening her eyes.
She laughed quietly again. Then I noticed the little silver chain dangling at her throat, the words Bella winking at me. I stared at it as I sat there in awkward silence. Meanwhile, she leaned in and sniffed my hair.
“Like rain and pine snap and rhododendrons. This place must suit you,” she said, closing her eyes but leaning away. “It’s taken me a long time to get used to this place,” she began. “At first I didn’t like the rain, the cold. But it’s grown so beautiful…”
Her red eyes darted towards the window.
“Hmm. Still no sign of him. Oh, I’ve borrowed this in the meantime, I hope you don’t mind,” she said, holding up the guestbook. “I love to read, and there are some nice poems in here. Would you like to hear one of my favorites so far?”
I didn’t think I actually had a choice, so I nodded.
Clearing her throat, she sat up a little and recited the following.
“By Mary Truly
The old tree who lives on a hill,
She’s been shaped by the weather; bending to its will.
Sheep come to visit a few times a day,
To eat the grass before it turns to hay.
They gather, bleat, and eat,
All around her root-like feet.
As the mountains and sky change their colors all around,
The sheep settle in to rest on the warm ground.
All through the night, they sleep
As the tree listens to the breath of each and every sheep.”
“And so the lamb fell in love with the tree. Because it listened to her,” she murmured, closing the book. “It’s a nice poem. Do you think he’ll like it?”
Still with no idea who he was, I said, “What’s not to like?”
She scoffed at me, looking at me as if I were crazy. “People always make fun of the things teenage girls like, trust me on that.”
I couldn’t argue there, so I said, “It’s a great poem. I’m sure he’ll love it.”
This must have pleased her because she broke into a giant full-toothed grin, revealing some scarily sharp canines.
“You’re so sweet,” she said, tapping the edge of my nose. “The boys here are just going to eat you up.”
I was just hoping she wouldn’t beat them to it as I stared at her teeth.
“Did you eat the swan?” I said.
“I really don’t like poultry,” she said with a laugh. “Or feathers in my food.”
“Are you going to eat me?” I said.
“I’m on a vegetarian diet,” she said.
She then looked past me then as if listening to something, biting her lip in concentration.
“I think he’s here! I can smell him,” she said, looking oddly both somewhat erotic and like she might vomit at the same time.
“I better get going, but thank you so much for taking care of me the past few days,” she said, leaping up from my bed with inhuman speed. In a blink, she had opened the window and sat crouched on the still.
She looked at me once and said, “Oh uh, by the way, your dog is kinda rude.”
Then with wild squawking, she went off into the night and vanished…
Of course, I ran through the inn, checking the locks on all the doors and windows after that, but I didn’t think anything I did would be able to keep her and her boyfriend out should they decide to come back.
In the morning, there was only a single trace of her: The guestbook replaced on the front desk with a freshly inked new entry, written in elegant scrawl as if it had been penned with a quill or calligraphy set.
“To the kind-hearted innkeeper,
Thank you so much for looking after my darling girl, these last few days. She is my love, my delicate flower, my reason for living. But danger has always lurked close to us, along with the fear that something awful should befall my beloved, that my treasure should be stolen. She was in need of a safe respite once again when she came upon your inn. I apologize that it took me longer to find her than I had anticipated but I’m so happy to see she has been well taken care of in my absence. You have kept my mate safe for me, protected her these past days when I could not. For that, I am in your debt, and we shall ignore the rude remarks made by the dog towards my beloved. I’m happy to have my little swan coming home. Thank you again.”
Beside it was a white feather on the floor, its edges dipped in…blood red. I can only hope this feather does not belong to Bella…
To be honest listeners, I’m not sure what has frightened me more: the appearance of that woman in my room, or the tone in the note left behind by her mate, husband, boyfriend, whatever he is. I mean, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but doesn’t it sound a little possessive? Or obsessive?
I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of experience with these kinds of things. On the one hand, I sort of hope no one ever talks about me that way. Or at least, I think I do. Because well, on the other hand, part of me does wish a romantic partner might love me someday with at least that amount of certainty and reassurance.
Either way, as I said, I am quite certain I will never be able to look at a swan the same way ever again.
Till next time listeners,
Be kind, be careful which creatures you invite into your home, and don’t forget to water your plants,
Hey there, it’s Bailey Loveless, writer and reader of Gabriela & The Inn Between. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. If you enjoyed the show, as always, please consider supporting via Ko-Fi, link in the show notes below. It costs less than your favorite latte, and your contribution keeps the show self-sustaining and advertisement free.
This week’s guestbook entry is an excerpt from Pacific Northwest: Daydreams and Paintings by Mary B. Truly!
Mary B. Truly has been painting for a while.
It’s how she makes herself and others smile.
She has traveled the country from Maryland,
Mountains, trees, rivers, sea, and sand,
Seeing the states far and wide,
Letting nature be her guide.
When inspiration finds her, she must act soon.
It may come from anywhere, under the sun or moon.
Huge thank you, Mary, for letting me read your work aloud on the show! You can find Mary’s books and her artwork at marybtruly.com.
To submit short prose or poetry to be featured in the Guestbook segment, please send us an email or visit our website for more information, links also in the show notes. New episodes of Gabriela and the Inn Between release twice a month during the quarter moon phase, with the next episode dropping on August 18. In between time, keep warm and keep well. See you next time, folks!