We may be able to get out of this, with a little patience and planning.
I drove up to Old Orchard again on Friday, looking to do a little more research even though we didn't find out a whole heck of a lot last time. Those discouraging results were part of the reason it took me a month and a half to get back up there, along with trying to work out a time when Jake could come too and Ray wouldn't need the car, especially since the train doesn't run up there during the off-season. After having some caveman paw at me on Halloween, though, I got jarred from my complacency, and decided to just do it myself, because sitting at "home" isn't making me a man again.
I spent some time in the library again, going through weekly newspapers to see if I could find anything strange about the inn that made it into print. There seemed to be a slightly higher than average incidence of police calls coming from there during the summer months, although I wasn't really totaling up the number of times the cops had to come to other hotels to deal with disturbances.
In some ways, I think we got off lucky. In May 2004, someone staying there was arrested for credit card fraud, and spent a night in jail. He'd been missing for months, so the cards had been canceled, but the story had a happy ending when he was "reunited" with his family. And then there was July of 2003...
Someone had hanged himself. Just... couldn't handle the change, I guess, although it didn't show up that way in the story. Maybe the other people staying at the inn had told the cops and the reporters the truth, but nobody ever believes us, so they probably just wrote off any descriptions of the guy "not being himself" as metaphorical.
I'd made it back to 2001 without thinking I'd found something useful before the pattern started to emerge. Nothing unusual happened from October to April. Someone reported missing for months before he used his credit card in May. I'd noticed that the whole town was shut down tight, but I hadn't made the connection. As soon as I did, though, I just left all the papers I'd been scanning on the table and went for the car, driving to the edge of town where the Inn was. I half expected to find it gone, having just disappeared into the evening fog one night, to re-emerge when the season started, but the world wasn't that crazy. It was there, shuttered up, padlocked, just like any other beachfront property.
One good thing about being a freelance writer is that you learn all sorts of little things researching different projects. I drove back to town, found a drugstore that was open, and bought myself some hairpins - thinking to myself that "Liz" probably looked far less suspicious doing so than Art would. Then I drove back, walked around to the rear of the building, making sure that the area behind me was deserted, and started working on the lock.
I was out of practice and had never tried to pick a lock with these fingers, so it took me agonizing minutes where I was afraid I'd get caught. But I got in.
It was chilly - the heat was turned on just enough to keep the pipes from freezing - and I didn't dare turn on the lights even with the shutters closed. Getting arrested would be hard to explain. Fortunately, there was a flashlight in the car. It was almost funny - sneaking around a sort of haunted house so close after Halloween - but also informative.
It was almost three by then, and if I was going to allow myself time to get to work without dealing with traffic, I would have to hurry, so I just broke into one room - my old one. The bed frame was empty; presumably the mattress had been placed in storage for the winter. The phone had no dial tone. But when I opened the closet...
Bingo! The luggage and personal effects of Jeremy Boyd! I used the connecting bathroom to get to the other room, and that closet yielded Stephen Jeffries's stuff. I called Jake right then, but he wasn't picking up; maybe he had another lunch shift or something. I was really pushing time by then, so I locked everything back up and headed to the car.
There was only one other stop I considered making on the way back to Cambridge, but the hotel where we'd picked up our keys way back in August was locked up too.
As soon as I got home I called the service that I'd used to book the room at the inn, and got a pleasant message saying that the Oceanside Property Management staff was taking a well-deserved vacation, but that they would be open to take reservations again after the first of the year. Which is fine; it gives me a little time to get things pulled together. First, I need to get hold of Jeremy, make sure that he, as Art, books his old room for the first window next May. That gets him his old body back and puts my form back in limbo; then when I show up for the second period, I'm me again, I got back home, and put this nightmare behind me.
Of course, before we do that, I should find out the exact nature of this curse - it would suck if trying to outsmart it like that released some sort of evil demon or something. But we've got a minimum of two months to do that, and probably right up until the place opens back up again.
Man! I wish I had more people's numbers and such - it would be a horrible bit of irony if we figured out how to get back to our old lives and people stayed stuck because they weren't keeping in touch.