“They want writers to come,” said a friend about the ghosts that were rumored to haunt The Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines.
The Weymouth Center offers North Carolina writers the opportunity to live in residence—in a nationally registered historic mansion—for up to two weeks a year. The sprawling house is set on twenty-four acres that encompasses horse corrals, walking paths, ponds, and eye-popping gardens. Writers in residence spend their creative time steeped in nature, antiques, and literary history. A generous proposition, and as a writer, one that I couldn’t refuse despite having heard many specter-filled tales about the mansion’s past.
Built in the early 1920s, Weymouth was once home to novelist James Boyd. Boyd loved to entertain and, in its heyday, Weymouth hosted visits by living literary luminaries, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, and Sherwood Anderson.
Today, Weymouth is a writer’s heaven. The place is a ninety-minute drive from my North Carolina home, but worlds away: a spot where writing comes first and distractions are minimal. I’d been told that no one does laundry at Weymouth, and since the communal kitchen possessed no dishwasher there was nothing to empty. For those things alone, I easily agreed to cohabitate with a few friendly ghosts.
My writing residency in Southern Pines was for five days. There were four scribes that autumn week; our days spent hunched over laptops revising sentences, reworking plots, and tweaking stories or poems. If I needed a break during the day, the Weymouth grounds were perfect for walking and the nearby area great for jogging along picturesque horse farms. One afternoon, I recharged by walking a few suburban blocks to the charming center of Southern Pines, where I wandered the many shops filled with everything from pretty clothes to whimsical artwork.
The other writers and I fell into a companionable routine where each evening—when our creative energies were spent—we gathered on the upstairs porch or in one of the wood-paneled libraries for wine and conversation before turning in.
My residency hummed along. I enjoyed the company of the other writers, and in a few days I’d made significant progress on my novel, outpacing a hoped-for-pie-in-the-sky daily word count.
Then one night as the others headed to bed, I volunteered to take our wine glasses to the kitchen where I washed them and set them on the draining rack. Then I briefly left the kitchen, but returned for a bedtime snack—cookies and milk. At the table, I dunked and munched but soon froze when I spotted one of the washed wine glasses shattered on the floor beside the garbage pail.
No one had been in the kitchen but me.
A chill rolled up my back.
I focused on clean up, found a dust pan, and then moved the garbage can. That’s when I discovered that the glass had shattered in a neat circle around the pail’s perimeter—the pattern’s impossibility supported by my quick assessment of angles and trajectories.
Here’s the thing that surprised me most: I didn’t pack my things and run for home.
I thought about it, but didn’t. To calm my frayed nerves, I sang while I swept, and my nonsensical tune went something like this, “I’m cleaning glass, just cleaning glass, time to clean broken glass.” I found comfort in my little ditty’s repetitiveness and hoped that my off-key singing (I’m notoriously tone-deaf) would ward off more thrown objects. I feared hurled cutlery or a skillet aimed at my head.
Once finished sweeping, I ate the remainder of my snack in my room. With the door locked.
I woke unexpectedly just before six. Outside, night covered the sky like a black fitted sheet. Inside, my laptop rested in dark-screen sleep mode on the desk way across the bedroom. I’d planned to sleep until eight, so I closed my eyes to catch a few more Zs. I don’t know why I opened them again seconds later, but I did and discovered my laptop fully lit. For that to have occurred, someone had to press the keyboard or touch the mouse pad.
I was in bed. Six feet away. Alone.
This time my inclination was to pack and leave. Only I wasn’t caffeinated, and flight seemed daunting. Then defiance kicked in. This was my much-waited-for writing residency. I’d applied and been accepted. I’d juggled my home life in order to get away for these days of uninterrupted writing time. No prankster ghost was going to scare me off.
With that, a new thought took root, one where I imagined the Weymouth ghost was enthralled with my writing and spent the days reading my work-in-progress over my shoulder. He (or she) was now a fan—not a menace—who simply wanted to know what came next in my story. Should I keep the-wine-glass-throwing, over-the-shoulder-reading ghost waiting?
I padded to the kitchen, made coffee, and then settled into my writing day at six o’clock, not eight.
And what type of story was I working on during this residency?
A ghost story, of course.