August 11, 2018. Nashua, New Hampshire.
The serrated jaws of madness snapped shut at our heels as we hauled ass from the cultist outpost of Portsmouth and shot down the length of the admittedly non-lengthy state, exhausting my little Korean engine in battle with New Hampshire’s rollicking hills, owing to my stubborn refusal to switch my car out of eco-mode. This is because I’m vegan.
Wait, don’t stop reading yet. I’m vegan in the way that most people quit smoking. They say, “All right, that’s my last cigarette” and it continues to be true right up until their next cigarette, after which they quit again. Transpose that to ethically motivated dietary restrictions, and replace “cigarette” with “an entire chicken”. So far my record stands at 16 consecutive hours of high-octane additive-free veganism, thanks to intermittent fasting.
The rain had slowed when we arrived at the Country Tavern, alleged by Atlas Obscura to be a brazenly haunted farmhouse turned restaurant and devoting a full page of menu to the legend of the genius locii, Elizabeth Ford. I was hoping to burn enough time that night would have fallen. It was looking like I was going to have to settle for overcast, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost.
There was a brewery across the street called White Birch. A shamanic state of consciousness enhancement could only help my chances of lifting the veil. It was one of the prettier breweries I’d run across on this trip, with an open floor plan, lacquered marble tabletops, and a huge plasma screen TV mounted behind the bar. It was also as cold as meat locker.
Everyone was dressed like they had been phase-shifted in from a ski lodge. I realized I was the only human on the premises in shorts and a t-shirt. It was 80 degrees outside.
The decor spoke to me. The walls were hung with slabs of wood with delightfully redundant carvings of birch trees and Hobbit quotes. Hobbit quotes were a popular ornamentation in New England breweries, for some reason. Between these plaques were $35 White Birch sweatshirts and hoodies. They did not sell t-shirts. That explained the temperature.
I grinned widely in appreciation of their aesthetic sense and their cunning, and ordered a flight of the most heavily liquored beers they had available.
They just flung bourbon and tequila into all kinds of shit. The bartender was an obvious dad who looked like he played linebacker in college and kept in shape. He surreptitiously warned me that they have to put “4 oz” on the menu for legal reasons, but each flight cup was actually 5 oz. I told him the secret was safe with me.
The Girl returned from the bathroom and ordered a 16 oz draft, since it was “the same price as a flight anyway”. I clucked my tongue and did not call her a rube, but I felt quietly superior.
It would be revealed that we were both, in fact, rubes. The combination of an empty stomach and 20 oz of tequila-beer would result in both of us hurling vitriol at the television during a news story about some girl with terrible squat form. It turns out the point of the story was not that the girl’s squat form was terrible, but that she had survived some debilitating disease and now squatted (poorly). Oops.
Fortunately, I choose to believe our innate charisma helped us break even with the pleasant staff vis-a-vis this high-decibel faux pas. And if I was drunk enough to Bro Out at a quaint, frozen little Tolkeinesque brewery, I was drunk enough to eat with a ghost.
The Country Tavern was a cozy converted farmhouse with old-world sensibilities, decorated like your grandma’s house, if your grandma lived in a massive 3-story restaurant. It was full of Olds, none of whom seemed to mind the advertised aura of death. We sat at the table, demolishing haunted bread. The waitress was a perky blonde woman who became very excited when I asked about the spirit-in-residence, and gave us a punctuated Midnight Society retelling, then gave us a misspelled placemat that filled in the blanks.
Elizabeth Ford lived in the farmhouse in the 1700s. She was married to an alcoholic sea captain with poor impulse control. She had a baby while he was at sea, and when he returned he was… displeased. The jury is out as to whether he thought she cheated on him, or if he was mad she churned out his baby in his absence, or if he just wasn’t ready for fatherhood. What he was ready for was serial murder. He killed his wife and chucked her down a well, then killed the baby and buried it under a tree.
“Have you had any sightings?” the Girl asked. “Like, you personally?”
The waitress frowned, then nodded. “Well, nothing big. Sometimes the cups will fall for no reason, or there will be moving shadows where there shouldn’t be. One time, I was closing, and I almost walked away without taking my tips out of my envelope. I was just about to go out the door when all of a sudden I heard a noise, and I turned around and my envelope had fallen off the table for no reason. I was like, “Oh! Thanks, Elizabeth!””
I snuck off to the bathroom. While in there, I turned the lights off and said “Bloody Mary” into the mirror three times. No spookings occurred. I clicked the light switch back on. The lights didn’t work.
I stood alone in the dark, staring into the mirror and weighing the severity of my miscalculation for three beats. The lights flickered back on.
I wasn’t alone anymore.
Naw, just kidding, I was. That’d be wild though.
I returned to the table, only crying a little, and we put in our orders.
The Girl put in an order for the ghost’s personal chicken. I strongly considered the haunted meatloaf, but eventually went in for the haunted prime rib. It had been years and I didn’t remember if I liked prime rib. (It turns out I do.)
reset the ol’ vegan counter
It was the first really substantial meal we had eaten all trip. I was rejuvenated. I finished the Girl’s ghost’s pasta and almost ate the decorative plastic flowers by accident.
Before we hit the road, I snuck off to the bathroom again.
“Hey, Elizabeth,” I said aloud. “Liz. Can I call you Liz? Listen, that Bloody Mary thing was in poor taste, and might have been racist, and I’m sorry for it. You’ve been hanging out here for a few hundred years, and I’m just worried you’re dwelling on the past. Why don’t you come with? I’m not tryna sound all psychopompous but my place back in Philly is pretty sick, it’s got all sorts of skulls and candles and witchy shit, good ghost ambiance. Plenty of room! Give city unlife a try. It’s got to beat watching these Olds eat for the rest of eternity.”
I turned off the lights, winked at the mirror, and went out to rejoin the Girl. She had cornered an elderly server, who was pointing out the window to where the baby was alleged to be buried.
“Used to be an old elm tree there,” he said in that distinctive elderly New England man way, with the gravitas that makes Stephen King’s tertiary characters so disturbing. “Tore it up, but they never moved the body. Still lyin’ under there. Ayuh.”
The Girl and I returned to my car. I opened the back door and made a demonstrative ushering gesture.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Getting the door for Liz.”
“You invited a ghost back to the hotel?”
“Her name is Liz. And I invited her back to the house. What, you’ve never thought about a third?”
The resultant skull eye undoubtedly made Liz feel more comfortable.
“Come on,” I said, closing the door and getting behind the wheel. “She’s in the prime of her afterlife.”
“Stoooooop,” the Girl said. It was more of a drawn-out groan. “Stop talking.”
The three of us headed back toward Manchester. We had one day left in New Hampshire, and while we had originally had grand designs about going to an art gallery, fate would intervene. We were not destined to look at art. We were destined to live it.
Or peer unblinking at it from the great beyond.