A Cautionary Tale for Writers Submitting Essays to Try and Win this Maine Inn by the Current Owner
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
After twenty-two years, the current owner–and former winner–of the Center Lovell Inn in the “Lake District” of southwest Maine has decided to retire and is opening the contest back up to “fulfill someone else’s dream.”
The rules? Simply pay a $125 entry fee and write 200 words on “why you would like to own and operate a country inn.”
“You have to do it,” my mother chirped on the phone. “Because you’re a writer, and this might be your only chance to own property, maybe.” I pretended to hesitate. But honestly, I had been hoping to get out of the city for a while. So I looked up the specifics: all they wanted was a brief essay, and the winner would swiftly inherent the rustic little bed-and-breakfast in Maine among the lakes and lobsters. My mother even offered to pay the application fee, but I told her I was sure I could afford it. After checking the amount on the website I called her back and said, “Okay, we’ll call it a birthday present.”
I think I wrote about the vitality of the rural outpost in the creation of countless great literary works, perhaps I promised to foster the same space in their building, promised inspiration. It’s hard to remember, exactly, because none of it came from a true place, not then. But two months later I got a call from the owner; the news was congratulations, but the voice was wary. The property would pass to me at the end of the week, and they would have to e-mail all the documents, because they were vacating that night. They asked how I’d heard about the contest, and I told them my mother had shared it with me. They replied, “Alright, but what is your mother really trying to tell you?” There was what sounded like a hiss and the line went dead. I was a little thrown, but packed regardless.
The long drive up through the pines was serene, and the Inn itself was lovely, white; three stories with a wrap-around porch. The door was swung open when I arrived, and the keys had been tossed on the counter of the eat-in kitchen. I had zero cell reception on the property, but that problem would soon seem miniscule. Miniscule, that is, when compared to the snake ghosts.
I spent most of that first day cleaning. The previous owner had left quick, it seemed; there were still canned goods in the pantry, a few hangers in the upstairs hall closet, and a landline phone on a remaining night stand in the master bedroom. A layer of dust coated all the floors, but slithering lines interrupted the integrity of this layer. It seemed as if someone had dragged a bunch of appliances in a leaving ballet, either that or they had attempted to sweep with a broom handle instead a broom.
That night it was quiet. No crickets.
On the second day the movers arrived with the furniture my mother was sending along from her great aunt’s old house. It matched the surroundings perfectly. The movers didn’t talk much, but they got the bed set up and I made it, and dozed off early.
The third day I walked the property. Meh.
I should say now that I’ve never been afraid of snakes. As a kid I’d visit my grandparents in a cozy apartment in a Maryland high-rise, and my grandfather kept a family of boa constrictors. I had no problem holding the little-to-big boas, and loved them, to the point where when a baby escaped into the air ducts of the building I was just excited to see where it would re-emerge.
But snake ghosts are a different story. Snake ghosts are a whole different story, because snake ghosts can spell.
On the third night I woke to the sound of their writhing. I shuffled to the window, and sure enough, the lawn was alive in the moonlight. Near-translucent snake ghosts blanketed every inch. They shifted en mass to spell out “soon.” Then, the lawn was still.
What happened in the daytime was somehow not important anymore.
The fourth night, I forced myself asleep with whiskey and had a nightmare that I was writing a book called “The Texas Maine-Saw Massacre;” a terrible title for my fear. My eyes opened and I rolled onto my side to see the snake ghosts entering under the raised window. They filled my bed and enveloped every inch of me, pushing my head to the ceiling, where still more snake ghosts wrote with their roiling bodies: “we’ll take it from here.” Seconds later I was alone.
Yesterday I stood around and wished that things would appear in front of my face.
Last night I woke to a hundred snake ghosts in the corner. They’d banded together to form a standing humanoid figure, an undulating mummy. Somehow, I wasn’t afraid. The mummy opened its mouth and pointed at the landline phone on the dresser. The landline phone rang. I answered and it was my mother. I may have asked “Why?” “Oh Honey,” she may have replied, “I think you didn’t understand. I just wanted to push you to achieve something, to give your writing value. I didn’t really think you’d win, of course. I thought it would help you find some inspiration. And didn’t it?” I can’t remember if it was me, or a rogue snake ghost, who hung up the phone.
So, today inspiration found me. Found me at the small kitchen table when, as I sipped a bad coffee, snake ghost after snake ghost slid up, and, undaunted by sunlight, entered my eyes and mouth and took over my body.
And now we’re one, together in our Inn at the End. Everything is spelled out inside, and words flood the pages in front of us.
The title said caution, but this is actually a clarification. Your essay will not win you this Inn. Your essay will allow you to join our residency. We seek all those addicted to ghosts, all those who wonder what they even are, if not possessed. We’ll read your work and we’ll know you belong. Please limit your essay to 200 words and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Submit. And as you do, ask yourself, “What form will mine take?”