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The Man at Traveller's Rest Cottage

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I normally stick to the strictly factual in my yarns because, to be honest, I lack the imagination to write fiction – what a gift that must be ! – however in honour of the season I feel I should bend my own rules a little a pass on a tale I received second-hand. You can judge whether it is to be believed or not.

 

The events I shall describe happened several decades ago during my first trip to the USA. This was to attend the first World Labelling Forum held in Boston. After a long and uncomfortable flight (with one refuelling stop) I arrived at my city centre hotel to find that we labellers were taking second place to the International Balloon Art Convention which was also being held there. In those days, I have to admit, labelling discussions could be a little dry and tedious so I bunked-off one day to participate in the social programme, nominally for spouses (wives in those days !) but also open to attendees.

 

So it was that one morning I boarded a small converted fishing boat in the harbour and embarked on a whale spotting expedition. It was Autumn, and as soon as we set off a cold grey sea-mist descended, enveloping us in damp silence as we sat outside on the deck. As the chances of seeing a whale seemed remote with such poor visibility, to fill the time I struck up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to me, a tall thin middle-aged man with glittering eyes who was dressed only in shirt and light jacket which meant that he shivered a little as he spoke. “Have you visited Boston before ?”, I asked, “Yes”, he replied, “And I vowed that after what happened I’d never come back – but here I am”. He gave a thin laugh. This was an opportunity not to be missed, so I continued the conversation to draw him out and eventually he told his tale:

 

“I was here in Winter. Seven years ago. Selling paper. Hired a car and headed out for Lowell, but I got lost somewhere, I don’t know, out in the forest, and I saw a sign for Shirley so I aimed for there. But then it began to snow real hard, big, big flakes, and I came to this bend in the road and didn’t make it and the car went off into a ditch. And it kept snowing for a while then it got dark. Real dark. And I figured I’d stay there till morning because it was a real remote road.

 

“About 11 I saw a small red light in the distance, and it got bigger. Eventually I see it is a pipe, and an old guy is walking towards me. I roll down the window. He says he’s out in his pickup collecting wood, he says he lives just down the road at Traveller’s Rest Cottage. He says “My wife always said that bend in the road was real dangerous”. Anyway, he comes back in his pickup and pulls me out. He says to drive on to his cottage and telephone a local hotel from his kitchen, he will go and collect the wood.

 

“So, I drive on a while. I park up on the road outside his cottage, there is a sign up saying “Traveller’s Rest Cottage” and I walk down to his kitchen door. His wife is in. I say:

 

“I came off the road a while back and I need to phone a local hotel to book in for the night, may I use your telephone ?”. She says sure. After the call I say to her “Your husband said you always thought that was a dangerous corner”. She looks kinda strange and says “My husband ? I don’t think so, he died five years ago …..”. I felt real cold when I heard that. So, I sort of apologised and left and walked back to the car. As I was getting near it I got a real bad shock – the guy in the pickup was there waiting for me. He says “Did you telephone ?”. I didn’t know what to say, I was confused, so I said “Sure, your wife was very helpful”. He looks kinda strange and says “My wife ? I don’t think so, she died five years ago ……”. I looked round. The cottage was in total darkness.

 

“I’m telling you man, I high-tailed it outa there. I drove a few miles till I got to the hotel, glad to be out of the forest. I go to the check-in. The clerk says “Bad night to be travelling. I just spoke to you, right ? Where did you call from ?”. I say “The folks at Traveller’s Rest Cottage let me use their telephone”. He looks kinda strange and says “The Traveller’s Rest Cottage ? I don’t think so. That burned down five years ago and the folks there died ….”. I didn’t check in. I got right back in the car and I drove to Boston. It took eight hours”

 

After he had told his tale there didn’t seem to be anything else to say, so we sat in silence listening to the lapping of the water and the cries of the gulls. When eventually we docked again in Boston I disembarked with the other passengers but I noticed the man was missing. Yet when I looked back the deck was empty.

 

When I arrived back at the hotel I still felt a little unsettled and, pushing my way past a clown wearing a puce balloon elephant on his head, I retired to my room. I got out my map and looked for Shirley. It didn’t exist. My sleep that night was troubled by strange dreams although, to be fair, the next morning I found I’d been looking at the wrong page and Shirley did exit after all. Which helped a bit.

 

Strange Days,

 

Many thanks,

 

Ted Woodley

Many Thanks, Ted Woodley