Old woman, young woman, travels-by-moonlight woman.
Welcome, weary travelers, to The Inn Between, a scripted audio drama. Join Gabriela Jones, a recent botany undergrad who takes a job as Innkeeper near the rural town of Shearwater. The trees are green, the rooms are cozy, and the guests are just a little bit strange.
GUESTBOOK SEGMENT: Special thanks to Michele Mekel and her poem "Tainted." Michele wears many hats of her choosing: writer and editor; educator and bioethicist; poetess and creatrix; cat herder and chief can opener; witch and woman; and, above all, human. With more than 125 poems published, her work has appeared in various academic and creative publications, including being featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and nominated for Best of the Net. Her poetry has also been translated into Cherokee. She is co-principal investigator for the Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 project (viralimaginations.psu.edu).
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, my name is Gabriela Jones, the new innkeeper of The Inn Between, where the trees are green, the rooms are cozy, and the guests are ethereal beams that travel by moonlight. Come on in and prop up your feet—metaphorically speaking of course—and pour yourself a cup of coffee. Because this innkeeper is very pleased to say she’s finally had her first guest.
I’m so excited, dear listeners, to share with you about my first guest experience. But before I get to that, by word of announcement, it has come to my attention that no matter what I schedule, these podcast episodes only appear to publish themselves every other week during the half-moon phase. I have no idea why, and any attempts to fix this technical issue have dismally failed. I blame the faulty wifi out here, which is prone to going in and out. But hey, I like a good quarter moon as much as anyone, so let’s consider this a happy coincidence. So quarter moon it shall be to those who like to keep to a schedule.
True to her word, general store owner Nancy comes by with the truck every other Friday with all that you would expect to need in order to run a proper bed and breakfast: toilet paper, fresh eggs, and cheese, the biggest bottle of distilled vinegar I’ve ever seen plus hay for the goats. A couple of you back home implied that her voice was a little creepy. I assure you that this has way more to do with me being bad at voices than Nancy herself. I love Nancy. She is a treasure trove of lore and knowledge. The first time she came out to visit, she said she’s seen Bigfoot’s footprint at least twice, told me that my can of soda was not soda but pop, and informed me that the old blue car by the barn is a 1984 Dodge Colt. Fifth-generation, like me, she said proudly pounding her chest. That’s how long her family has been in Shearwater. Beaming with pride, she told me how so far all 26 of her grandsons have also chosen to stay in this tiny town instead of moving off to one of the big cities. She then took out her wallet, which was chock full of pictures of all 26 of them. The oldest is 28 and the youngest is five. To be honest, from the way she was talking, I was a little worried that she would try to set me up with one of them, but to my relief, she did not. She also brought me extra seeds and dirt for the garden, tactfully implying that I hadn’t ordered near enough on my visit to the store. “These will grow best in the finicky local climate. Cucumbers, beets, carrots, and a little local something,” she said with a wink. I have no idea what that last one is supposed to mean, but I was immensely grateful for the seeds all the same. So here’s to growing unidentified objects.
She then inquired after how many flannel shirts I keep in my wardrobe, on account of making sure that I was properly outfitted. When I told her that I only had a couple, she quickly shrugged off the black and green checked shirt on her shoulders and chucked it at me, telling me to keep it, she must have ten more like it at home. While my scrawny arms will never hope to fill it out the way that Nancy’s bulging muscles do, I am proudly wearing that flannel shirt as I record this. It has a strange but oddly comforting smell of spent gunpowder, fresh briney cheese, and pine sap. Stalwart, sharp, but earthy and homey, just like her.
Nancy asked me if I was excited to have this new job, and I told her that I was, but also nervous seeing as I still hadn’t had guests and felt like I didn’t know what I was doing or what to expect. She also asked if I had seen a particular entry in the guestbook yet, enthusiastically explaining that she liked to look through it from time to time. “You never know what’s going to end up inside,” she said with a smile. Opening the large, leatherbound book, she flipped through the pages till she came to the following poem, scribbled neatly.
By Michele Mekel
Under lore of the Snow Moon,
I wandered Goblin Market
ensconced in such a baleful wood.
Ghosts and ghouls of every ilk
pitched their pretty poisons
with much seductive appeal.
Yet, the one I sought
was not to be found
at either stand or stall.
Neither bribe nor promise
could conjure the toxic tonic
I feverishly required.
They had never heard of you.
“I love that one,” said Nancy, dabbing at her eyes. “The woman who wrote it stayed in The Raven Room the winter after I lost my late husband, Donald. It snowed and I got stuck out here overnight. We shared a cup of coffee next to the fireplace and started to chat. She left this behind when we both left in the morning. It’s true you know. After I lost Donald, there was nothing in my whole store that could restore me. No thing can replace the people we love.”
I thanked her for sharing it with me, and also offered her my condolences.
She gave me a soft smile, and the twinkle returned to her eye. “Ah, I shouldn’t trouble you young people with the ails of the old. I’m a lucky woman, and doing alright on my own.” Before she left, Nancy gave my shoulder a light squeeze, and said, “Mark my words, lass, the guests will come April 1st. Don’t you worry.”
Her advice hasn’t failed me yet, and I suspect it never will. Because my first guest arrived just before the first stroke of midnight on April 1st.
My room is right at the top of the stairs, and it’s been so quiet in the house by myself that any noise would’ve disturbed me. On the night of March 31st, I went to bed wrapped in Nancy’s cozy green flannel. An hour or so after I’d fallen asleep, I awoke to a sweep of light under my door and the gentle click of a lock. A mineral, sulfur-like smell wafted around that I thought might be coming from my new flannel, but as I poked my head out into the hall, the air crackled as if someone had recently let off fireworks. Spilling from underneath the doorway of the Planets Room was soft pale light wavering with the subtle shadow of a moving person. I was so excited that I quickly tiptoed downstairs to peek at the self-check-in registrar. Elegant loopty loop letters wrote out that the guest had checked in atpm. There was no name and no breakfast requests as they were leaving early in the morning.
I didn’t care. I was just so excited to finally have someone staying that I did a quiet, little happy dance before creeping back upstairs. The light still glowed on in the Planets Room. I paused outside the door, wondering if I should knock and ask if they need anything. But I decided that was kind of weird given how late the hour was, and I also remembered Mrs. Carol, the former innkeeper, and the three rules she had given me before her hasty departure. She’d been adamant about the 3rd rule of not disturbing guests, especially the self-check-in ones. She made a point of saying that.
So I was about to walk back to my room when a woman’s voice called out from inside.
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” she said in a slow, wispy breath that I will not even attempt to pretend that I can replicate. It is hard to describe her voice in a way that does not sound hyperbolic. But since I am not prone to exaggerating, try to imagine what I mean when I say that this voice could utter any word known in any human language, and it would sound like a symphony. Serene, resonating, and profound, but in a quiet, familiar, and unassuming way, like the flutter of an eyelash that turns into a wish or the turning pages of a cherished book. As if I had heard it a million times before, but for the first time all at once.
I assured her that she hadn’t woken me because I sensed that she was truly exhausted, and I did not want to distress her. I asked if I could get her anything. She answered that she was fine, just happy to hear my voice for a moment.
“I’m happy to hear yours too,” I told her.
“It is very quiet where I live,” she explained. “I rarely ever get visitors, and the ones that do come are not particularly chatty.”
“Is that lonely?” I asked her.
“Only from time to time,” she assured me. “I have wondered what it might be like to talk to someone. But it is fine being on the outside looking in, especially when you are used to it.” She paused, then in brighter tones said that actually she might like to try some cheese, and asked me if I had any swiss.
Running down to the fridge, I found that there was in fact a wedge of hard, yellow swiss among the cheeses Nancy had brought me. How did she know, I wondered as I cut a few slices, placing them on a small decorative plate with tiny ceramic stars and ivy. When I came back with the cheese, I thought I could hear the woman inside smiling. She thanked me and asked me to leave it outside the door, then she wished me goodnight in a way that made me feel blessed and sanctified.
I trotted back to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. The presence of someone else nearby was so energizing, that I ended up staying up all night reading. Even though the night was dark and overcast, I swear there was a light outside surrounding the house and illuminating the trees. It reminded me of a snowy night on a full moon, but a glance at my calendar assured me that it was a new moon. It was broken at the crack of dawn when I heard the soft creak of the floorboards. The same gentle, sweeping light passed by my door, and my nose got one last whiff of that crackling smoke smell. Then my visitor was gone, and I was alone in the house once more.
When I went to clean the Planets Room, the place looked nearly untouched save for a fine, silver dust sprinkled about the place, especially about the window sill. It scooped easily into my hand and felt like fine organic soil. I also noticed it had an unusual shiny quality when I held it up to the light. Wondering if it would be good material to add to the garden, I gathered up as much of it as I could before vacuuming the rest. I really would like to know what it is made of, so I decided to send a sample to one of my favorite formers professors at the Everglades School of Botany. His name Doctor Perry Wrinkle, and he is an expert in soil composition and unconventional permaculture. So I look forward to his reply.
To my delight, my mysterious guest had also decided to leave a note in the guestbook in the same beautiful, loopy writing. It read:
“Thank you for the good night’s rest and for a bit of delicious cheese. It was just what I needed to refresh myself for the spring. You have a lovely view, and be sure to look for me towards the middle of May. See you then.”
“See you then,” I said out loud. It probably sounds foolish seeing as I was alone and I hadn’t actually seen the woman’s face. I just have a feeling that I have seen it many times and I would know it should I ever see it again.
Till next time, listeners,
Be kind, find the wisest woman in your town, and don’t forget to water your plants,
Hey, it’s Bailey Loveless, writer and reader of Gabriela & The Inn Between. Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode. If you enjoyed the show, please consider supporting via Ko-Fi page, links in the show notes below. It costs less than your favorite latte and your contribution keeps the show self-sustaining & advertisement free.
Special Thanks to Michele Mekel, this episode’s Guestbook contributor. Living in Happy Valley, Michele Mekel wears many hats of her choosing: writer and editor; educator and bioethicist; poetess and creatrix; cat herder and chief can opener; witch and woman; and, above all, human. With more than 125 poems published, her work has appeared invarious academic and creative publications, including being featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and nominated for Best of the Net. Her poetry has also been translated into Cherokee. She is co-principal investigator for the Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 project (viralimaginations.psu.edu).
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 or follow the link in the show notes. New episodes of Gabriela and the Inn Between release twice a month during the quarter moon phase. I look forward to seeing you on the next episode. In between time, keep warm and keep well See you next time, folks.