“Unspooling like an eerie, classic suspense movie in your mind, Taylor’s novel is beautifully crafted.”Jay Bonansinga, author of The Sinking of the Eastland on The Haunting of Cambria
The Haunting of Cambriaby Richard Taylor
A novel of love, redemption, and second chances.
"Lily died the day we signed the escrow papers," Theo Parker writes of his bride and of Monroe House, the bed-and-breakfast they'd just bought in the picturesque coastal town of Cambria. Theo soon learns he can no more bring his beautiful wife back than he can kill the thing that haunts his new/p>
A novel of love, redemption, and second chances.
"Lily died the day we signed the escrow papers," Theo Parker writes of his bride and of Monroe House, the bed-and-breakfast they'd just bought in the picturesque coastal town of Cambria. Theo soon learns he can no more bring his beautiful wife back than he can kill the thing that haunts his new home.
Riddled with guilt but making the best of his recuperation from the car accident that killed Lily, Theo and his property manager, dowdy Eleanor Gacy, begin to investigate strange occurrences in Monroe House. And as they do, both Theo and Eleanor begin to see a bit of hope for a second chance at love and redemption.
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THE HAUNTING OF CAMBRIA(Chapter One)
LILY died the day we signed the escrow papers for the bed-and-breakfast.
It was late October and one of those wonderful Cambria days. Fog raced across the treetops and wrapped around their trunks like cloaks of mist. Yet it wasn't cold. The sun was glorious as it flickered from every facet of the sea. Cambria is special in this way, fog and sunshine sharing the day like loving siblings.
We were realizing Lily's dream of living in the tiny seaside California town. It wasn't my dream. Truth is, I had no dream, and stole hers like a pickpocket. I wanted to write, but about what I didn't know. Nonfiction, as it turned out. I wrote nonfiction because it was about something from outside me. Lily, on the other hand, had wanted to live in Cambria and become one of its quaint denizens since her parents brought her to the place when she was a child.
I took her to Moonstone Gardens for lunch after we left the escrow office. We ate salads and relished our dessert of lemon ice cream and raspberries. Lily talked of Monroe House, as our recent purchase was called, a ramshackle two-story Victorian dating from the turn of the century--the century before last. It had been run as a bed-and-breakfast before our entrance into its aura, and a badly managed one at that. It was located half a block off Burton Way in the East Village--Cambria is divided into villages, east and west, god knows why--and had failed because it was obscured by curio shops and restaurants. Lily had a plan to correct this deficiency, of course. Lily was filled with plans. It's the curse of those destined to die.
"We'll place a sign on Main Street," Lily said between spoonfuls of yellow ice cream and red raspberries. "Just like The Brambles. You know, an in-your-face kind of sign."
The Brambles was Cambria's most famous establishment, a four-star restaurant that early on, as Cambria began to transform itself from a sleepy little mining and logging community into a tourist attraction, had put the town on the map. The restaurant was a converted house, as many of Cambria's more established businesses were, with a sign at the corner of Main and Burton that left no doubt where it was located.
"They might not let you put a sign there," I suggested.
"They let The Brambles do it," Lily retorted.
"The Brambles is famous. Monroe House isn't."
"We'll make it famous!"
"Lily, I'm just saying, it might take a little convincing for us to be allowed to put up a sign like The Brambles's, that's all."
"Do you like the wallpaper in the lobby?" That was the way with Lily. Opposition was either overwhelmed or ignored, and changing the subject was a tactical maneuver. She knew I didn't like the wallpaper in the lobby--knew, in fact, that I didn't like wallpaper at all. It's anachronistic. The lobby wallpaper in Monroe House was a dark, dingy representation of flowers I couldn't identify. It had been put up by the previous owners recently, another miscalculation on the way to accumulative failure.
"It's awful," I responded.
"It has character."
"So do punch-drunk fighters," I said.
"Even so, I think we need to have wallpaper throughout the place."
"Sure. It's your hotel."
Technically, it was our place. Community property. But the money to purchase Monroe House came from Lily's trust fund, a small inheritance left by Lily's grandfather that barely covered the cost of the bed-and-breakfast. It was ours; it was hers.
"It's yours, too!" she protested.
"Fine. Will this town give me a variance for slot machines?"
"Wallpaper," she insisted.
"I demand veto power. Otherwise, you decorate the place by yourself."
"But something brighter."
Yes, something brighter. That was Lily. Something brighter.
We met in Los Angeles. I was born there thirty-four years ago. She had taken a job doing ad layouts at the magazine where I wrote and sometimes edited. She was a star the day she walked through the door, and unlike many beautiful women, and some not so beautiful, Lily had handled the knuckle-callused attempts of her male coworkers to get her into bed with grace and wit.
I was living with someone then and, ever the loyalist, didn't realize it was over until she arranged to have me walk in on her making nice with another guy. Had I been a drinking man, I would have dove into a bottle and not surfaced for a month. My way of handling hurt is to clam up, to withdraw inside and replace sentences with grunts and groans. Lily noticed this, somehow, as no one else had. She made an effort to cheer me up, a crusade that did not utilize her body or her femininity. She made me laugh. She was a great physical comedian. She had wit, as I mentioned earlier. And she was an empath who finally said, "Geez, Parker, who wants a woman who arranges for you to walk in on her with another man?"
At that moment I realized several things. One, everyone at the magazine knew about the incident, probably because Nancy wanted them to know about it, and she worked in distribution. Two, the only one in the place with any guts had just put her professional relationship with me on the line. And three, really, who would want a woman who arranged to hurt you and break up with you at the same time? Had I been a drinking man, I would have ordered a Coke.
A week later I asked Lily out. She said no.
"Seeing someone?" I asked.
"Not you," she replied, not unkindly.
Two weeks later I said, "You know, I'm really not a bad guy, no matter what Nancy says."
"I don't know what Nancy says," Lily replied. "She's too busy rutting. But I still won't go out with you."
"You're the only person at this magazine I like." Lily logic. There it was.
So the campaign began. Flowers failed early on. I tried humor. I left notes on her desk, e-mail in her computer mailbox, and grinned repeatedly and without masculine grace from across the room whenever I could. I stood by and watched her with disapproval as she briefly dated a guy from accounting. I made myself annoying, an achievement of little repute, true, but there it was.
"Is there some way I can make you desist?" she asked one day at the coffee hutch.
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," retorted I.
"You're making me anxious."
"You mean, you have a nervous condition?"
"No, apparently I have you."
"Then let me buy you dinner."
"No. And you've used the last of the half-and-half."
I have an endearing trait. I don't give up. If it were not for my disarming smile and dismissing shrug, cops would have hauled me off long ago and placed me where I could annoy no one. But I was always charming in these little pursuits, witty whenever wit struck like lightning and was available for theft.
I left notes wrapped in origami. Paper fish with a joke inside, birds with wit droppings. I clipped cartoons, drew several of my own, and sent them all to Lily's desk. Depictions of twosomes in awkward, sweet, cute, or just bawdy situations suggesting the bliss, clumsiness, adorability, or rapture that might await us.
"Okay," she said one day in May, and with an exasperation that tingled my heart, "I'll go out with you. But dutch, and for lunch only."
So we went to lunch. She chose the place. Plastic blinds and plastic tabletops. Paper napkins. Too much light and too little atmosphere. And the house wine was iced tea.
"I thought you liked me," I said, leading with my chin, another endearing trait.
"Lunch," she replied. "We're having it. So don't push it, buster."
Buster. What an adorable little word. Women used to use that word back when the world expected them to say things like, "Straighten up and fly right," or "Keep your hands to yourself." My hands were to myself; I had them inches away from hers.
"No," I said in uncharacteristic earnestness, "I mean it. I thought you liked me."
"I'm not staying in Los Angeles, Parker."
"Well hell, of course not," I said. "No one plans to stay in Los Angeles anymore. The Beach Boys left. So did The Mamas and the Papas, and aren't The Doors buried somewhere in Paris?"
"I'm not staying here. I'm just sorting a few things out, and doing it here, and then I'm leaving."
"So I'm not getting involved with anyone who is staying in Los Angeles."
Ah, she liked me even more than I thought.
"Lily, what makes you think I want to stay in Los Angeles or give a rat's ass"--I said rat's ass because it made me sound more manly than rodent's heinie--"about staying in Los Angeles?"
"You have a career."
"I have a job."
"You have a condo."
"It's an apartment with pretension. It has a fireplace and a mortgage. It means nothing." For the briefest of moments I thought she might be jealous of the condo, as if to say, I'm just an apartment kind of girl, while you, you're a condo man. We come from two different classes, Parker, and that would always stand between us.
"In a few months I'm going to receive a small inheritance, Parker," she said earnestly, "and then I'm going to a small town to live. I'm going to open a bed-and-breakfast there. It's my dream. It's what I want to do. I couldn't expect someone to set aside their dreams for mine."
But of course at this point Lily didn't know I had no dreams, no ambitions, nothing really except the aforementioned condo that my previous significant other had insisted I buy. But of course none of this was meaningful because I wasn't asking Lily to marry me, or even to become my lover. (Well, okay, so maybe I might have asked that, if I thought I could get away with it.) No, I was just interested in the girl herself and wanted to spend time with her. I told her so.
"Well, you see, Parker, that's the problem. You know how you can tell sometimes how things will work out?" Actually, I didn't. I almost never saw how things were going to work out. "I can just tell that if you and I, if we...It's just better if things never get that far."
A beautiful woman telling a man that things should never get that far is like pouring gasoline on a three-alarm fire.
"Lily, I don't care about staying in this city, or any other city, really. I don't care about anything. Everything's a joke to me...except you. You are not a joke, so I guess I do care about you."
Lily blushed then, and so did I.
I don't remember much after that. At some point I took her to my condo--maybe this was hours later, or minutes, I forget--and she said to me, "I'm not that kind of girl." Lily was a fan of old movies, did I mention? Anyhow, she said it, and I replied, "Okay then, just what kind of girl are you?"
"I'm the sort of girl who must feel a deep commitment before she gives herself to a man."
"And do you feel that commitment?"
Lily thought about the answer for a time. Then she circled her arms around me, drew me to her, and caressed my mouth with her lips.
We became lovers. I won't go into the details, even though they're implanted in my mind like road markers. But I will say this, and it's not about sex, really, but about love. The door to the bedroom in the condo was at one end of the room, where I'd placed the bed. I had lain in it many times and seen various women walk down the hall from the bathroom. Some of the women wore clothes, some didn't. Some aroused me greatly, some didn't. They were all women who for some reason or another I had brought home and romanced. On one particular occasion I watched Lily. It was not the first, or the tenth, or maybe even the twentieth time she had walked down that hall toward me naked as a free-range animal.
I had grown to know every inch of her, every shape and line, every contour and quiver. Lily's eyebrows were sexier than the entire body of any woman I had ever known. I was mesmerized by the beauty of her, the absolute, exquisite--painful, even--beauty of her. On this occasion she was rubbing her tummy with her hand, looking down at something I couldn't see, a blemish too small to be identified by a man from ten feet away. Then she looked up and saw the expression on my face--it must have been something akin to awe--and she laughed. It wasn't an unkind laugh, triumphant or arrogant. She laughed out of joy, that someone would love her so much that the very sight of her would fill him with happiness and wonder. When she reached the bed, she playfully tousled my hair and slipped beneath the sheets. "You've got it bad, kid," she said.
Yes, I had it bad.
So did she.
WE kept our office romance a secret, at first. Then about ten minutes after we entered the place after our first tryst a buddy, Joe Peralta, said, "You're nailing Lily, am I right?" So it was obvious that we were in love, obvious too that Joe had better watch his mouth when he was talking about my girl. Later that night, at Lily's place (variety is the spice of life), Lily reported the same phenomenon. One of her girlfriends said, "You're getting some from Theo Parker." People can see things even when they're hidden.
With the secret out, we became brazen about it. We took lunches together, so to speak. We sneaked away for a brief rendezvous now and again. We spent every idle moment together, and so I learned something about Lily, and she me.
Her parents were dead, divorced when she was ten, father killed in an industrial accident when she was twelve, mother dead of leukemia when she was sixteen. There was a grandmother; someone Lily had mixed emotions about. Lily had been named for her, though Lily was assigned the diminutive early on, leaving the full name, Lillith, to the matron of the family. There was money. Lily didn't say how much, and I didn't care enough to ask. There had been boarding schools, Choate, Harvard, and then an arranged job where the luckless girl ran into me. Lily had seventeen cousins, all on her mother's side of the family; she was Lillith's only heir.
My story was simple. Father a machinist who retired to the same town where he worked for forty years, Harbor City, a bedroom community (parking lot is more accurate) of Los Angeles, where he drank himself to death in three years of aimless inactivity. Mother a home health worker (she cared for invalids and the aged) who made the money that sent me to private schools my entire life. I was not grateful for this until some years after her ruined, worn-out body was buried at Green Hills Memorial Park, a hundred yards and down the slope from her husband. My brother Danny was a lieutenant colonel--a "light colonel"--in the Army (I used to make the obvious jokes, "Colonel Light--less filling, fights harder!") and my sister Kate had four boys, three of them addicted to what are called in polite society controlled substances. Strangely, the fourth might yet be saved, because he's gay--he has outside interests.
If you see a disparity here between my background and Lily's, yes, we didn't share the same dimples. I made sure she understood this, even though my salary at the magazine was easily three times hers. (I was nearly a decade older, a decade farther through the workplace pipeline, and I occasionally went out and had a drink with the boss, who thought I was funny.) Lily didn't care that her private schools looked down on my private schools, that she graduated from Harvard with honors and I graduated from UCLA with validated parking, or that some people, her grandmother surely, would think I was a gold digger.
I was a gold digger. Lily was pure gold to me.
Lily cared about two things. One, me, Theo Parker. The second, a moment in time that had become a dream. Once, before her parents separated, when it seemed they would be in love forever, and a family forever, they took her on a vacation to a place called Cambria. They spent the weekend in a bed-and-breakfast, and it was a singular moment in her life, never duplicated, never approached again. They were happy in this tiny village along the magnificent Central California coast, where sea mist and sunshine dance about as if in love. Surely, it was the town that made their happiness possible, and its absence that destined each of them to regret.
As a young adult Lily returned to Cambria again and again. She stayed near where the old bed-and-breakfast had been (it was long since gone, the victim of a fire) and walked the streets of the simple village and its wondrous beach where once moonstones were culled. Her grandfather had established a small trust fund for her and it was enough, barely, for her to buy and restore an old bed-and-breakfast like the one she stayed in when she was a little girl. This was Lily's dream, and Lily was mine.
"What would you do there?" she asked me.
"I'll work as your counter man. Front!"
"There won't be any bellboys, Theo." I was Parker no more, but Theo, alas.
"Then I'll brew coffee in the morning. I'll make the pastry run. I'll cook--"
"No, I won't cook."
"Right, you won't cook."
"I'll change the linen. I'll trim the hedges. I'll do anything, just to be with you."
"It's a big step down, sweetheart. I'd be stealing you from your life of success--"
"Success? I'm successful?"
"Yes. Didn't you know?"
Come to think of it, it hadn't occurred to me, but I was successful. I owed money on a Mercedes. I had a condo on Wilshire Boulevard near Westwood. I owed money on that, too. Yes, successful.
"I don't care about that," I told her. We were in bed together, naked and honest and without a thread to hide behind. "I'll give it all up and follow you."
"I can't let you do that," she told me gently, sweetly, concerned more for me than for herself. "I won't let you do that."
"Then you'll have to marry me," I said, "so I'll be management."
That night, as Lily lay sleeping across my body, her breath rushing like the sea to my neck and drawing back, I could think of no other future but in her arms. How fortunate I was to have found this woman. I knew that long after our bodies were no longer young or hers beautiful, long after every pulse but that of life had left us, we would still be together and I would still hear the sea in her breath and see the sky in her eyes.
Fools. We are all fools.
WHEN Lily turned twenty-five she inherited seven hundred thousand dollars, enough to buy Monroe House from a bank and to set about converting it into the bed and breakfast of her dreams. We were married on the drive north out of Los Angeles. I had placed the condo on the market, traded the Mercedes in for a swift little Mazda Miata and no debt. Escrow was scheduled to close that very day. Lily was delirious with happiness. She wore shorts and a sweater, and I the same, male version. We were leaving the corporate world behind.
After signing the escrow papers, I took her for lunch to Moonstone Gardens, a hidden little bistro on the Coast Highway at the northern tip of Cambria with a vast and locally famous view of the Pacific. We sat in the gardens themselves, not upstairs where the jazz combo played at night, and enjoyed the mist as it swirled past us, first at treetop level, and then lower, racing past our table. The fog was getting thicker.
"Let's take a run up into Big Sur," Lily suggested.
"Maybe as far as the Piedras Blancas lighthouse," I agreed. We had just driven 250 miles, gotten married, signed contracts ad nauseam, and eaten a meal with a bottle of wine. And we had reservations at an inn on Moonstone Beach where I hoped for Lily and sleep.
We drove north, past Mr. Hearst's little castle. The road was two lanes, one north, one south, and danced around dunes and bluffs. The fog grew thicker, became a shawl thrown across everything. Lily loosened her seatbelt and put her feet up on the dash.
"Put your seatbelt back on," I told her, even as I looked at her lovely legs.
I never saw the SUV coming the opposite way as it drifted across the center line and slammed into the Miata, killing Lily and sending me into a six-week coma.
THE HAUNTING OF CAMBRIA Copyright © 2007 by Richard Taylor
Meet the Author
Richard Taylor has worked as an advertising copywriter, a motion picture production company executive, and a studio executive. In 2002 Richard, his wife, Jackie, and their two cats moved to the lovely seaside town of Cambria, located at the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California's Central Coast. The Haunting of Cambria is Mr. Taylor's first novel.
Richard Taylor is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Russian Studies at Swansea University, Wales. His numerous books and articles on Russian and Soviet cinema, include Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany (1998) and the KINOfile Film Companion to The Battleship Potemkin (2001), both I.B.Tauris. He is Series Editor of Tauris' "KINO: The Russian Cinema Series.
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I read all the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other great mysery writers. This guy has 'one up' on them all, and that is his sense of humor. It is dispersed one word at a time,just enough to titilate the senses. We need more like this Richard!!
Richard Taylor¿s novel, ¿The Haunting of Cambria¿ intrigues, amuses and entertains ¿ then ends with a depth charge in the subconscious that stays with you long after the reading is done. Walking a tightrope between whimsy and disturbing darkness, Taylor is a master storyteller who lets his wounded, sympathetic characters guide you into the dark places where a truly horrifying evil lurks. Starting off in L.A., the book quickly moves to Cambria, an idyllic village on California¿s central coast. Theo Parker and his new bride Lily are an immensely likable couple who trade quips and repartee like 1930s urbanites. Their dialogue is one of the great joys of the book and would be enough to make it worth reading ¿ but that¿s just the beginning. I don¿t think it¿s too much of a spoiler to reveal that Taylor kills Lily off early on. This devastates Theo who undergoes a lengthy hospitalization, then hibernates at Monroe House: a deteriorating wreck of a place that Lily and Theo had hoped to turn into a quaint bed-and- breakfast inn. Grief-stricken and wracked with guilt for causing the accident that took his beautiful Lily¿s life, Theo is nursed back to health by Eleanor Glacy, the no- nonsense property manager who has been appointed by the court to watch over the place. Eleanor¿s fearlessness and pragmatism serve as an anchor when it becomes apparent that an unspeakably unwholesome presence is also an inhabitant of Monroe House. Is it Lily? Eleanor¿s repressed sexuality? The psychic remnants of a long-forgotten murder? As Taylor reminds us, every ghost story is a mystery and ¿The Haunting of Cambria¿ is a terrific one. Loaded with character, humor, sensuality and horror, this book is one hell-of-a ride. It¿s a one-sitting kind of book that keeps pulling you back to read ¿just one more chapter¿. Highly recommended.
When I began reading The Haunting of Cambria I expected to be scared, and I wasn't disappointed. But I was surprised to find myself laughing hysterically. This novel is just what is says it is -- one of 'horror & humor'. The frightening things that haunt a bed & breakfast in the small (but real) Central Coast town of Cambria, California will keep you looking over your shoulder or under the bed in your own home. The characters are so real and do such real things that it's easy to relate to them, although sometimes they do & say things that I, for one, wish I had the courage to do & say. That's were the laughter comes in. And if that's not enough, this story is also very sweet and romantic, but by no means mushy. The main character's bride dies on their wedding day in the first sentence of the story. (This is no surprise if you've gone to the author's web site where the first chapter is online.) The writing in this scary, funny, sexy novel is right up there with the best of the best. It's not cluttered with unnecessary things you don't care about, but has the fast- paced style that keeps you reading far too late into the night -- but by then you're a bit timid about turning out the light. I look forward to reading more from this author. He knows how to keep the reader slightly on edge yet happily surprised. (Probably with a wicked smile on his face.) I highly recommend THE HAUNTING OF CAMBRIA by Richard Taylor. It's ghostly good!
Just finished reading my copy of 'The Haunting Of Cambria' & I have it say it is one of the best, well written stories I have read in a very long time! Its one of those books that you read & hate to have it end! Good work Mr. Taylor...very good work indeed!
The car accident on the day they signed the papers left his wife Lily dead and Theo Parker severely injured. After recovering physically he still grieves his loss and suffers from survival guilt. Still he tries to move on with their business plan although that haunts him as he keeps thinking they signed on that tragic day. Still with property manager Eleanor Grey, Theo reviews the business plan he and his late spouse had developed to convert a home into a B&B. --- However, still emotionally battered, Theo struggles between euphoria that his plans are being employed and despondency that his wife is dead and he lives. Soon he begins to hear noises and things occur that make no sense especially when Eleanor initially denies hearing or seeing anything out of the ordinary. Somewhat concerned with his mental state, Theo begins to believe his late wife¿s spirit live inside the B&B and she is trying to tell him something while his mother-in-law shows her loathing for his role in her daughter¿s death. --- The story line starts off as a typical haunted house ghost story filled with the usual suspects from Poltergeist 101. However, about half way into the by the numbers story line, the tale changes into something much deeper and more fulfilling as Theo and Eleanor begin to realize that their perceptions about the B&B are wrong. Sort of like the NBA in which the first half is enjoyable and fun, but does not matter much beyond filler time however the second half is when the game begins in earnest. Richard Taylor provides a strong finish that if started earlier with less bumps in the night would have haunted readers long afterward. --- Harriet Klausner