An empty inn, a girl of smoke, and a burly-armed shopkeeper.
Welcome, weary travelers, to The Inn Between, a bi-weekly, scripted podcast written, read, and edited by Bailey Loveless. Join Gabriela Jones, a recent botany undergrad who takes a job as Innkeeper near the rural town of Shearwater. There are three rules:
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GUESTBOOK: Special thanks to Shannon Cosgrove for her short story titled “The Day She Set Out.” Shannon wants to be known as fancy, without any sartorial proof to offer. She writes all the time and finds magic in her chosen home. Visit her on Instagram @scosgrove15, where she'll keep you apprised of local and internal happenings.
To submit your work to the Guestbook, read submission guidelines here
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
Welcome weary travelers, my name is Gabriela Jones, the new innkeeper of The Inn Between, where the trees are green, the rooms are cozy, and there doesn’t seem to be any guests? Not yet anyway? Come on in and prop up your feet—pretty please—and pour yourself a cup of coffee.
The two weeks since my last podcast have been an anxious time for me. To be fair, I think moving across the country to a brand new place in and of itself is anxiety producing, even for the bravest of adventurers. I have had trouble sleeping since we last spoke. While the house is still so quiet and calm in the evening, I have been sleeping with one eye open for two reasons. One is just in anticipation, waiting for a guest to arrive in the night. And two is because the nighttime sky is delightfully distracting. It’s strange to me how night can look so different from place to place. While the same stars and moon connect us all together, the experience is so different from day to day and place to place. The weather here ensures that the sky is different each night, but on clear evenings, the night is so dark that one can see the heavens with awesome clarity, and the beauty of so many stars spilling across the sky makes sleep near impossible.
This has been a comfort to me at this time of both loneliness and worriedness.
Let me try to explain the source of my anxiety.
I was not concerned at first. In fact I was grateful for the time to make sense of the house and especially the front desk area so that I would be ready for customers. Mrs. Carol must have replaced the self-check in registar before she left, which was kind of her but also leaves me with no clue as to how often I ought to be expecting folks. I gathered all of her notes and handwritten receipts to sort through and then cleaned out the desk, which mostly consisted of half used pens and gum wrappers. I also made several important discoveries: a well maintained bicycle, an old car which may work if I find the keys, and to my delight, an espresso machine in the kitchen. I may have spent an inordinate amount of time experimenting with recipes in there, but I can guarantee that the first guest who gets breakfast will have the best homemade latte of their life. I discovered that there are three species of cedar growing behind the barn, that the rain does not soak through my sweater, and that the soil here is mostly made of clay. I also learned while feeding the goats that Toil likes to be scratched behind her ear while Trouble does not. I still have no idea what breed of goats Toil and Trouble are and internet searches continue to prove fruitless.
On a particularly cold and windy day, I discovered the following story written down in the guest book. It goes,
“The day she set out was unremarkable. The wind still beat at her door, and whispered at window panes. A cold monologue of what awaited when she stepped outside. She wrapped up tight in wool and fleece and went out anyway, preserves and tea weighing just enough to stay present as she crunched her way forward, down her lane that never received enough of the sun to take the chill off. In the summer, it was a boon, bringing the scent of rock and brown earth, and cool fingers of air to her overheated cheeks. In the depths of November, it tested for weakness, whispering around her. Reminding her that elements aren’t friends, so stay wary and keep moving.
Like all fairy tales, this one had an old woman, heading for an evergreen trail through the deep woods. She’d cataloged it down all her days, a snip of good smelling this, a pail of succulent that. She would bring it home to her mother who noticed without watching, and taught without preaching. This goes well with berries in a pie. This should never be used in oil, and this should never enter the house again. And off she would run, when she was still very young, to write it all down, to sketch and memorize the look and feel of it. The taste of it. Now she knew what to prune to settle the aches, and what to baste in a pork roast to close the eyes of all who sat at her table. A moment of awe. An hour of rest. It was a quiet and hushed day, and her footfall was light as she moved into the deep woods. As she walked, she received the whispering death rattle of what few leaves remained on the trees. She’d left her long hair down. It was still wet, close to her scalp, and she shivered in delight, as she took off her hat and let the long fingers of cold soothe her heated mind. She didn’t have far to go today, but she smiled as she walked to her cathedral. It was made up of evergreens and holly. None of the holly trees bore any red berries as fruit. They existed to be prickly. Like her.
She slid easily through the opening only she could see, and let go of breath she hadn’t known she was holding. It was velvety dark in her enclosure. She spread her finest blanket out and welcomed stillness. Sun pierced weakly, and the drip of trapped water kept an uneven tempo as she breathed in pine and lemon preserves as she smoothed it over her toast. The tea in her thermos had an antiseptic taste, so she added more honey. When it was to her liking, she remembered her mother’s words. A woman who, like her, had never strayed far from home, with all its delights and seasons. “The forest reclaims its own.” She sat and sipped her tea and nibbled her toast and waited.“
The beautiful story was written in simple but elegant scratch in berry red ink, signed at the bottom by Shannon Cosgrove, The Raven Room with a crow’s feather stuffed like a bookmark into the spine. Should I ever meet this woman, I need to thank her because I carried this story in my heart throughout the coming days. Maybe it’s because I wonder if this forest is claiming me. Maybe it was an omen of what was to come.
With so many wonderful discoveries, of course I was not concerned at first. How could I be? But after several days, I was worried. And once a week had passed, I was starting to panic. Not only were there no guests, there hadn’t been contact from anyone, not even a phone call or even a piece of junk mail in the post box. I was not just feeling lonely, but scared. Had I done something wrong? Had I missed something I was supposed to do? Was there an announcement on social media I was supposed to make? Or heaven forbid a bill I was supposed to pay? Worst of all, had I been completely abandoned? The food was getting low in the pantry, the toilet paper rolls were dwindling, and the fear that I had been forgotten or left to rot in this unfamiliar house began to gnaw its way through me. I woke up one morning to a thick mist that surrounded the house as if to only further remind me of how cut off I was from the rest of the world, alone with nothing but grey skies and a pair of goats. Unable to take anymore, I pulled out the bicycle and decided to ride to Shearwater, the little town somewhere down the road. The fog may be thick and swirling, but I reasoned that if I stuck to the road, I would be fine.
In hindsight, I realize that I probably should have waited for a clearer day.
I’m not sure how long I had been riding when I started to get that distinct feeling of being lost. You know the one—it creeps and crawls like ivy till it covers you entirely. Had I been peddling for five minutes or thirty? Could I even find my way back to the Inn if I wanted to? I didn’t know, and not knowing what else to do, I pulled off to the side of the road, searching for some kind of sign. There was nothing. Only endless, silent fog.
I sat down on the damp moss and curled my knees to my chest, hoping that someone would drive by or some good samaritan would appear. Then I suddenly got the sensation that I was not alone. It jolted through me, as though the days of isolation had suddenly made me more sensitive to the presence of others.
“Hello?” I said, looking around.
No one answered, but just down the road, I noticed the fog twisting and darkening into shape. Then out of nowhere, there was a girl. She was about my height, and while she looked as though she were made of wisp and smoke, something about her exuded warmth and safety. She raised an arm to wave at me, and I waved back.
“Hello, can you help me?” I asked, rising to my feet. “I’ve lost my way in this fog.”
She waved for me to come towards her, and I followed, rolling the bike, but no matter how far I walked, she was always ahead of me.
“Hello?” I said one more time. “Is this the way to town?”
Enthusiastically, she waved one more time then pointed towards the sky. I looked up, and at first saw only fog and conifer branches, both rolling overhead in the wind current. But after a moment, I realized there were people up there. Some were walking, some were running, some were dancing, and some were riding bicycles made of clouds instead of metal. They all moved together, cloaked in mist and shadow, along the wind with haste and intention, but once in a while I caught a glimpse of a face smiling down at me and waving.
I turned back towards the girl of wisp and smoke. She was gone now, but I knew that she was somewhere up there with the others and meant for me to follow. Hopping back on the bike, I peddled steadily with the folks in the fog, and we moved silently down the road, which I think suited us all just fine. I wondered if they had all been lost once too, and I certainly was appreciative of their willingness to help. I got the impression that we were all just grateful for each other's silent companionship.
As we came out of the foothills towards Shearwater, the fog thinned and lifted upwards into the sky, where it gathered in clouds hanging above the town on the coast. There I saw other faces, people hovering with pale hands and beckoning my weather riding companions forward. They waited beside a great cloud in the shape of the sail, looking as though they were all boarding a boat about to be pushed out to sea. I silently thanked them all for their help and wished them good luck with the rest of their travels.
I reached town in no time after that, following the main road and passing a sign that read: Shearwater, population 2,000. Soon I rolled up to The General Store, a large, practical building made of strong cedar planks with great, big, yellow letters. The owner of the store is an old woman named Nancy, who is just as stalwart and down to earth. Nancy greeted me as I came inside and introduced herself at once. She seemed to know exactly who I was and she told me she was surprised to see me, that she did not expect me to arrive so soon. She sheepishly apologized for not coming out sooner then explained that she drove out to the Inn every other week.
“Either myself or one of the boys will deliver supplies to you every other Friday,” she said, “Didn’t that old biddy Mrs. Carol tell you? I shook my head, and she laughed. “Nevermind and not to worry, wee lass,” she said, “The boys and I will see to it that you have everything you need. I’ll drive out tomorrow and get you squared away.”
She told me that she has 26 grandsons, and while she does have all the nurturing warmth of a proud grandmother, she has huge muscly arms that you’re more likely to find on a sailor than any other seventy year old woman I’ve ever met. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she could cuss like a mariner too but you would never think she was rude with her twinkle in her eye. She shook my hand so enthusiastically that I thought she might accidentally pull it off with those great, big arms of hers, like a friendly polar bear that doesn’t know its own strength. I asked about seeds, and she pointed to a corner in the store, told me to pick out what I liked, and she’d add them to the Inn’s account.
“It’ll be a very fine thing fixing up that garden out there,” she said, “And good for business too.”
I told her that I’d yet to have anyone arrive at the Inn, or hear from Mr. Leake.
“Not to worry, lass,” she said. “This is the off season, and we will see no one till April 1st. That’s just the way of it till spring, dearie. Then you’ll have more guests than you’ll have rooms. As for Mr. Leake, we haven’t seen him or his son in ages, and he’ll give you no trouble as long as you keep things straight.”
I appreciated her validation very much. Afterall, I am still here to do a job.
I picked out several packages of seeds, mostly vegetables and herbs to get started then found my way to the coffee section. For such a small town, I was enthralled by the amount of beans and creamers available, and I got several more ideas for lattes. I selected a few of both along with some tea and cookies, and seeing my enthusiasm, Nancy offered to pack them in a bag for me to take back. As she did so, I found myself wandering over to the big windows at the front of the store.
The large clouds in the sky had pushed off and were slowly drifting towards the sea. I thought I saw them again, the figures in the fog, the girl of smoke and wisp, standing on the stern of a ship, all waving one more time before setting sail. I smiled and raised a hand to say farewell.
Nancy came up beside me and handed over my bag of goodies. We both stood there for a moment, looking up into the clouds. “Nice weather, we’re having,” she said.
“Yes, very nice,” I said.
Till next time, listeners,
Be kind, look up more often, and don’t forget to water your plants,