Here is Chapter one of "The Mysterious Bed".

 

Chapter One

 

The cold December sun reflected brightly off the mounds of snow beside the cross-country ski trail. Bundled in warm blue ski suits with matching ski masks, the Sullivan brothers were enjoying their vacation. Thirty-three year old Bruce had asked his younger brother, Travis, to join him and his wife, Pam, at the resort for their Christmas vacation. Since Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, they would return to Dallas to spend Christmas Eve with their parents the following weekend.

The heavy clouds had been ominous and Pam had refused to join the brothers on the trail. She was worried they would not be back before the snow began to fall. Being kids at heart, they promised they would make the trip quickly and would be back before the snow began.

Bright yellow warning signs beside the trail told them to slow down because they were approaching Dead Man's Curve. If taken too swiftly, a skier could miss the curve and run into one of the several trees that lined the edge of the cliff beyond.

Pulling to a stop just before the deadly curve, Bruce looked back with remorse to discover that the snow had already begun falling at the lodge. He had difficulty seeing the outline of the old three-story building so he knew it would not be long until the snow would reach them. It would probably turn into a blizzard before they got back to the lodge.

"I think we'd better head back," Bruce said. Secretly, he wished he had listened to his wife as he removed his ski mask to wipe the sweat from his brow. The static electricity in his light brown hair clung to the mask and his hair stood on end, making him look as though he'd been frightened. Travis had to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Bruce asked.

"Your hair," Travis replied.

Bruce scowled and pulled his mask back over his head. "Come on, let's go," he growled, replacing his goggles.

Travis turned around to head back, but glanced over his shoulder for one last look at the dangerous curve. The late morning sunlight glistened off of something blue before it disappeared behind the clouds. Travis turned back to Bruce, but he had already started off and wasn't waiting for his younger brother.

"Bruce! Wait! Come back!" Travis exclaimed.

Moving swiftly over to an object he had spotted, Travis was shocked to see a body lying in the snow. It was a young man. Travis couldn't figure out why he was lying on the ground. Travis removed his skis so he could get closer to the young man. Pulling his own ski mask and goggles off, he knelt next to him.

"Oh, no," Travis gasped, noticing the blood-soaked ski mask. "Can you hear me?" Travis' deep voice boomed as he gently pulled the goggles off over the victim's head.

"Yeah," he said, painfully. "Head hurts," he gasped and clutched Travis' arm, looking pleadingly into his eyes. "Dizzy to get up."

Travis looked down at the young man lying on his side in the snow as Bruce finally reached them.

"How did this happen?" Bruce asked.

"Hit the tree," he replied.

Travis looked around. The trees were several hundred feet away. Either the guy had hit it hard and bounced all the way to where they were now, or he had managed to get back on the trail before passing out.

"You're bleeding pretty bad," Travis said, deciding it would be best not to remove the ski mask.

"Bruce, help me get him up. Maybe we can get him back to the lodge," Travis said as Bruce removed his own skis.

"Okay," Bruce replied moving around to the victim's left side. "He doesn't look very heavy. Should be easy."

Travis bent down to lift him up. "Bruce and I are going to help you get up. Okay?" Travis asked.

He nodded as the tears stung at his eyes. Though he was in severe pain, he hadn't lost all of his senses. If they did get him up on his feet, how would they get him back to the lodge? It was three miles away and he got dizzy and passed out every time he moved. Any strenuous effort would probably be pure torture, but he knew there was no other way for them to get him back to the lodge, so he remained quiet.

"It's in Your hands, God," he prayed silently. "Help them get me to safety."

Bruce knelt in the snow next to him. Gently lifting him up by putting his hands around the young man's back and under his hips, he handed him to Travis. Travis held him while Bruce stood up. Bruce clicked on his skis, and then helped Travis stand the young man on his feet.

"That feel better?" Travis asked.

Resting his head against Travis' shoulder for support, he closed his eyes so his head wouldn't spin. "No...thanks...for...trying." He was trying to keep from relaxing, so he wouldn't pass out again. "Beginning to worry...about freezing...to death...out here."

Travis said, "We need to get you to the doctor. I don't know if you can ski or not, but we'll try." He looked at his watch. "It's eleven-thirty. You weren't skiing alone, were you?"

"Yes," he replied. "Long story. Hurts to talk."

"That's okay," Travis said. "Let's see if you can stand up by yourself; it's too far back to the lodge for us to carry you."

The young man nodded and, placing his arm around the young man's shoulder, Bruce handed him his goggles and said, "Better put these back on."

He pulled the goggles over his head while Travis put on his skis.

"You think you can do this?" Travis asked, handing him his poles.

To keep from exhausting what little energy he had left, he shrugged and said, "Head really hurts."

"Let's get out of here before it starts snowing. You can use the poles to keep your balance. Travis, we need to stick real close to him in case he passes out again."

"Okay," Travis nodded. They had not gotten more than a few feet when the young man stopped and started to fall backward as the world spun before his eyes. Travis dropped his poles and caught him just as he lost consciousness again.

"Great," Bruce said with an exasperated sigh. "Now we'll have to carry him back. It's about three miles to the lodge."

"No. We can't do that," Travis said, looking around. "It's going to start snowing any minute now. There's an old house over there. If we can get him to it, maybe they'll have a phone we can use to call for help. If not, one of us can go for help."

"That house hasn't been lived in for ages," Bruce said. "There's an odd story behind it, too, kind of spooky. I don't care to wait there for anyone."

"Then help me get him there. I'll get a fire started while you go for help. Okay?" Travis asked.

"Fine with me," Bruce said, picking up Travis' and the young man's ski poles. Tucking them under one arm, he led the way across the snow-covered field toward the house.

The brothers nervously watched the clouds inch their way closer as they trudged through the snow in the open field toward the old house. The snow was deep. Travis had to keep his skis in his brother's tracks as he carried the young man in his arms, sliding each foot slowly forward. He didn't have the support of the poles to keep his balance. The victim couldn't have weighed more than a hundred and twenty-five pounds, but with the wet suit and his dead weight, he felt much heavier. The added difficulty of traveling in the deep snow made the going tough.

They could see from a distance that the windows of the old house were boarded up. It was obvious to the Sullivans that no one had been there for a long time. The house was in desperate need of repair. They just hoped it would keep the young man warm until help could arrive.

When they reached the house, Bruce took off his skis and took the limp body while Travis removed his skis. The old porch creaked under their weight. A cord of firewood was stacked neatly at the end of the porch, ready to be taken into the house. "Good, there's plenty of wood cut already," Travis said, trying the door. It was locked.

He looked around. Reaching up to feel along the top of the doorframe, he found a rusty old key. He unlocked the door then tried to push it open. It was stuck. With a harder shove, it opened slowly. The rusty hinges cried out as if in pain, but the screws held fast to the wood as the door opened. Travis led the way into the old parlor. Bruce carried the body in and Travis closed the door behind him.

Cobwebs, clinging to the large brass ceiling fan over the coffee table in the center of the room, swayed gently in the breeze that had crept in behind the three skiers. More cobwebs hung from the ceiling and across the sheet-covered furniture. Nothing had been disturbed for years.

Bruce stood holding the victim while Travis searched the house for a place to put him. "There's a fireplace in the bedroom," Travis said, returning to the parlor. He took the limp young man from Bruce and carried him into the bedroom.

"I'll bring in some firewood," Bruce offered. "I noticed the bin is empty."

"Thanks. Since he's been lying in the snow for a while, we need to get him out of these wet clothes," Travis said, placing him gently in a sheet-covered chair next to the bed. Unzipping the ski suit, he eased it off the young man.

"Here's the wood," Bruce said, laying it in the fireplace.

"Thanks. I'll get the fire started, then we'll see who he is."

Travis got the fire burning while Bruce surveyed the house. "Travis, I want you to see something," Bruce called from the parlor. "Come look at this."

Travis joined him in the parlor. "Look," Bruce said, lifting the sheet off the end table.

There were several hand-carved objects on the coffee table and the end tables. Travis picked up a hand-painted blue jay. There was also a deer with a fawn lying in green grass under a tree. The other carvings included a raccoon, an owl and several swans.

"So? They're just carvings," Travis said.

"Right, but how many people do you know that would leave a place without packing? Even if you die, your relatives go in and remove the furnishings." Bruce took the blue jay from Travis. It was about three inches wide and six inches high. "What kind of wood is this? Walnut?"

"I can't tell the different types of wood," Travis replied, shrugging. "Besides, maybe whoever lived here didn't have any relatives," he suggested, taking the wooden object from Bruce and placing it back on the table where it belonged.

"That's possible, too, I guess," Bruce agreed, "but it's still odd.”

“Well, let's not worry about it. Why don't you go get help? I've got the fire going, so I'll go get him comfortable and check his ID to see who he is."

"Okay. I'll try to return before it starts snowing here," Bruce said, heading for the door.

Travis returned to the bedroom. He found a wallet in the guy's back pants pocket and removed it. The young man's driver's license revealed that he was Casey Stevenson, twenty-nine. He lived in San Francisco, California.

Travis placed the wallet on the nightstand. "I guess since you're still bleeding, I'd better leave the mask on you," he said, softly.

Yanking the dustsheet from the bed, he pulled the covers back and gently laid Casey between the blue and white striped flannel sheets. After taking Casey's shoes off, he covered him with the hand-made quilt and white crocheted bedspread.

"Now, Casey, I'm going after some more firewood. Then I'll see if I can find some bandages for your head and we'll wait till Bruce gets back with help," he said and walked out of the room.

A few minutes later Travis returned with his arms full of firewood. He stopped in the doorway and stared at the empty bed. It had been made. Casey's wallet was still lying on the nightstand; the ski suit hung drying on the chair and his shoes were by the bed.

"Casey?" Travis called, putting down the firewood.

He looked in the bathroom and the kitchen, but he was unable to locate the young man. He ran outside as the snow started to fall gently and looked around the house. There was no sign of tracks except his and Bruce's. He didn't know if Bruce could make it back until it stopped snowing at the lodge. Looking westward, Travis could barely see the lodge as the falling snow swirled angrily to the earth below. The only thing for him to do was search for Casey and wait until his brother returned with help.

Adjoining the kitchen, Travis found what he assumed used to be a garage, which had been converted to a workshop. A large wooden worktable took up the center of the room. Dust and cobwebs covered the sawdust that had been on the floor for years. It was obvious to Travis that this was where the wooden items in the parlor had been lovingly created.

The garage door had been converted to a wall with a large plate glass framing Mount Aspen in the distance, giving the wood-carver a lovely view as he sat and whittled away the hours while the wood in his hands took on different shapes of animals and other creations.

There was a door to the basement at the back of the workshop. Finding a candle in the kitchen, Travis lit it and made his way cautiously down the old steps. He had only gotten a few steps down when he was attacked by cobwebs. He knew Casey had not gone down that black hole.

"Where could he be?" Travis asked himself. He made his way back upstairs, blew out the candle and returned it to its resting place. Travis decided he should look for secret passages. "I don't know," he said to himself, "maybe I've been watching too many old movies."

The wind began to strengthen as Bruce headed toward the lodge as fast as he could go. The ice-cold wind whipped the blinding snow up into his face and he had difficulty seeing the path in front of him. He was thankful he was wearing goggles and a ski mask so none of his skin was exposed to the harsh elements.

"Why didn't I listen to Pam?" he thought, bending forward against the driving wind. However, he knew that the young man would have frozen to death had they not found him. He also knew that Pam would agree with this reasoning. Bruce was an expert skier. He had vacationed in Aspen and Vail for several years. Before meeting Pam, he had even been a ski instructor for several seasons at a lodge in Aspen.

Bending further into the wind, Bruce's thoughts went to another blizzard three years before, when he and Pam had honeymooned in Switzerland on the Alps. That blizzard had caught them by surprise and they had to spend the night in a cave with another couple that was from Germany that didn't speak any English. Bruce knew that night had brought him and Pam closer together. They had all learned the value of life, for they could have frozen to death had they not huddled together for warmth in the cold dark cave.

The wind softened some and the dark outline of the three-story lodge appeared to be a growing mass as Bruce sped onward. What was normally a forty-five minute trip, Bruce had made in three-quarters the time. Out of breath, he was happy to see Pam standing in the doorway as he came to a stop at the ski shanty. Dressed in black jeans, a black faux-fur coat and earmuffs, she rushed out to greet him.

"Bruce!" she cried, throwing her arms around her exhausted husband. "Thank God you're back. Where have you been? What took you so long? Where's Travis? He's not hurt, is he? You didn't leave him out in this blizzard, did you?"

Fighting for breath, Bruce took his goggles off and removed his ski mask. "No," he gasped. Removing his skis, he handed them to the attendant. "Travis is fine."

Bruce glanced down at the attendant's nametag and gasped in more air. "Kurt, can you get me security or the manager? We need to go to the old house by Dead Man's Curve. We found a guy who had run into a tree. He bashed his head in. He passed out from the pain before we could get him back. We did manage to get him to the house and Travis got a fire going and is trying to keep him warm. But we need to hurry."

"Certainly," Kurt replied, dialing a number on the phone. "Did you get his name?"

"No. He's about this tall," Bruce held his hand palm down about level with his chin. "He was wearing a blue nylon ski suit. Since his head was bleeding, we didn't take his mask off, so I don't know what he looks like."

Kurt nodded and took a clipboard down from a nail on the wall beside the phone. "Yeah, Chief, Kurt here," he said into the phone. "The blizzard's getting worse and we've got two still out. They're both at Baron House. A skier named Casey Stevenson has been hurt. Ran into a tree and hit his head. Travis Sullivan is with him...Yeah, trying to keep him warm...No, sir, not confirmed...Yes, sir."

Kurt replaced the receiver and laid the clipboard on the counter in front of him. "The Chief's sending around a Jeep," he informed the couple.

"Why don't you go see if you can get an ambulance and wait for us in the lobby?" Bruce suggested to Pam.

Kurt picked up the phone to make another call, and then replaced the receiver. "Good idea," Kurt agreed. He put on his heavy coat and a ski mask and opened the door. "This phone's dead. You will need to hold on to this rope to get back to the lodge, Mrs. Sullivan," he informed Pam, placing his hand on the rope secured to the door facing.

"What...Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed, looking out the door. The snow was falling so hard she couldn't see more than a foot from the doorway.

"Maybe you'd better stay in here," Bruce suggested, putting his arm around her waist.

"No, we all have to get out of here," Kurt said. "The phone's out, the heat will go off soon. Come on. Close the door behind you."

Bruce pulled on his ski mask and he and Pam followed Kurt into the blizzard. Holding onto the rope, they made their way slowly to the lodge.

When they reached the back entrance of the lodge, a man wearing a ski patrol uniform was waiting for them.

"There you are, Bill," Kurt said and introduced him to the Sullivans.

"You wait here, Mrs. Sullivan," Bill instructed. "We'll be back shortly. Kurt, see if you can get an ambulance out here and we'll be back as soon as we can."

Bruce kissed Pam and hurriedly climbed into the middle seat of the Jeep Scout parked next to the entrance. The three-story building blocked the wind here, increasing the visibility.

"This is Rick," Bill introduced the patrol officer behind the wheel to Bruce.

"Did you say that your brother was able to get a fire started?" Rick wanted to know, after the introductions were made.

"Yes, he did. And there was plenty firewood on the porch. They will be fine for a while."

Rick had a hard time making out the way because of the blinding snow. Had Casey not been injured, they wouldn't have risked making this trip. Rick's only consolation was that there would be no other traffic. The only thing he had to worry about running into were trees and he knew that if he kept to the center of the road, he wouldn't have to worry about them.

Rick breathed a sigh of relief when he saw daylight clearly in front of him as they ran out from under the blizzard after only going a little over a mile. Finally, they reached the house.

"Travis! It's snowing. We gotta get out of here, quick!" Bruce called, rushing into the house.

"What's going on?" Bruce asked when he discovered Travis tapping on the wall above the bed. "Where's the kid? What are you doing?"

"I don't know," Travis replied and explained what happened as Rick and Bill entered the room.

"I knew it," Bruce said with a sigh. "I told you this place was spooky. Well, let's get outta here."

"We can't just leave! He might come back and will be stranded here," Travis protested.

"He won't be back," Bill said, picking up the wallet off the nightstand. "Is this Stevenson's?" he asked.

"Yeah. How'd you know his name?" Travis asked. He hadn't gotten the wallet until after Bruce had left.

"The lodge keeps a record of who they give skis out to and the attendant remembered him from my description," Bruce replied.

"Oh. Well, that's good. There's a phone number in his wallet to call in case of an emergency," Travis informed them.

"Good. We'll take his stuff back to the lodge with us. His next of kin can get everything," Bill said, picking up the shoes and handing them to Rick. "I'll tell you a little story about this place on the way back."

"What are you talking about?" Travis asked as Bruce took his arm and led him out to the waiting Jeep.

The blinding snow again made it difficult for them to see, but Rick skillfully steered the Jeep back to the lodge, while Bill told the Sullivans the history of the old house.

"That house hasn't been lived in since nineteen eighty-five," Bill began. "There was a young couple who bought it back in eighteen twenty-two and lived there for about three years.

"The third winter they were there, eighteen twenty-five," he continued, "They had a baby boy, who contracted pneumonia when he was about three months old. He couldn't sleep one night so they put him in bed with them. The next morning, the couple left the boy in bed while they had breakfast. Afterwards, the mother went into the bedroom to get the baby, but he was gone. The bed was made up like it hadn't been slept in. It had snowed before they retired the night before, so there would have been fresh footprints had anyone come in and taken him.

"They couldn't locate him, nor did they ever hear from him again. So, they closed the house and moved, refusing to allow anyone inside," he added.

"Well, I'm sure there was some logical explanation," Travis said, as Rick drove the Jeep into the driveway in front of the lodge.

"There's more," Rick said, leading the group into the lobby.

"The woman's husband died in eighteen ninety-three," Bill continued. "She died in nineteen hundred, leaving the house to her brother's son. Since her nephew knew what had happened to his cousin, he decided to sell it, but didn't tell the new owners. After the new owners had lived there for about five years, the husband was out in the yard cutting firewood and accidentally cut his leg. He didn't go to the doctor, but his wife dressed his wound, put him to bed and went into the kitchen to make dinner.

"When it was ready," he continued, "she took him a tray, but when she got to the bedroom, the bed was made and he was gone. He, too, was never heard from again."

"So you're saying that people who are ailing somehow just disappear when they are in that bed?" Travis said with a smirk.

"Seems to be, sir," Bill said, as the lodge manager, Jerry Brown, a tall slender gray-haired, green-eyed man in his mid-fifties, joined them at the desk.

"In nineteen forty-five, after the lady died, her new husband sold the house and land to the ski resort," Bill continued. "Mr. Baron, the owner, lived in that house for about forty years. Since his wife had died in nineteen forty, he lived there alone with his son. By this time Mr. Baron had heard the story, but dismissed it with a shrug."

Bill paused to introduce the Sullivans to Jerry and explain what had happened, as Pam entered the lobby through the rear door.

"Oh, good. You're back," she said, rushing up to Bruce. "The blizzard is so bad that the hospital's not going to be able to send an ambulance until it slows down." She looked around. "Where's Casey?" she asked, puzzled.

"He disappeared," Bruce replied, softly. "I'll explain later."

"Oh? Okay," she responded, mystified.

Jerry looked around the lobby. There were a few guests sitting by the fireplace and a few others were looking out the window, watching the blizzard, which continued in full force.

At this point, Jerry took over the story. "On October fifteenth, nineteen eighty-five, shortly after his eightieth birthday, Mr. Baron was diagnosed with lung cancer. That night his son decided to stay with his father, so he could take him to the hospital the next day to begin chemotherapy."

"Don't tell me," Travis interrupted. "He disappeared that night and the next morning his son found the bed made and no sign of his father."

"Correct," Jerry nodded.

"But what we don't know," Travis said, "is why do only people who are sick or injured disappear?"

"Why, or how, I should say, do they disappear in the first place?" Bruce asked.

"Hmm," Travis said thoughtfully. "The whole thing is odd, but what really puzzles me is, why is there always someone there when they disappear? If you ask me, it sounds like someone's doing away with these people and using this story to get away with murder."

"Okay, Mr. Sullivan, we'll look at the situation from your viewpoint," Jerry said. "Where did you hide Mr. Stevenson's body and what was your motive for killing him?"

Travis and Bruce exchanged puzzled glances.

The End of Chapter 1.

 

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