I couldn’t believe my luck when the concierge from the world-renowned Downy Gammon House called me. He explained they’d had a rare cancellation and I was next on the waiting list. I jumped at the chance to book my stay. I’d been trying to get a reservation there since I’d come into my inheritance nearly five years ago.
It’s touted as a once-in-a-lifetime transformative experience and absolutely everyone from royalty, to ex-presidents to A-list Hollywood celebrities has raved about it.
To me, the most unique and intriguing aspect of the resort is that there are only three rooms, every guest spends one night in each of them and you are not allowed to bring anything with you. The resort promises an immersive adventure sweeping you from the 21st century back to Victorian England, but the details of what this entails are a well-kept secret; it’s such an integral part of the charm and prestige that define the exclusivity of The Downy Gammon House.
As I’ve alluded to, you may only visit the resort once. One three-night stay per customer. No exceptions. If you must ask what it costs, you simply can’t afford it. If it hadn’t been for the fortune I’d inherited from my grandfather, I could never have booked a reservation at such a place.
When they emailed me the paperwork all guests are required to fill out, I was stunned. It seemed so overly excessive. The language was so formal, so full of legalese. After a half dozen pages or so, I gave up trying to understand it and simply initialed and scrawled my signature where indicated and sent it back to them. My grandfather surely would have chastised me for not consulting a lawyer when dealing with a legal document, but this was for a stay at a famous 5-star resort. Why waste the time and money? What’s the worst thing I could be agreeing to? That I’d have to pay for any towel or robe I took home?
Arriving at The Downy Gammon House was like waking up in a dream. I swear the air shimmered as the horse-drawn carriage passed beneath the stately wrought iron arch crowning the driveway as it gracefully curved upward from the 8-foot tall brick walls surrounding the property.
The manor house is set on more than 500 rolling acres with gorgeous gardens, fountains, walking paths, a lovely pond with swans and ducks, secluded hideaways, and the resort’s famed hedge maze. The manor itself, with its terraced design, brick walls, slate roof and stone details makes you feel as if you’re in the English countryside.
All employees dress in Victorian era formal wear. From the moment the doorman opened the massive, ornately carved, highly polished wooden front door, it was genuinely like stepping back in time to the mid-1800s.
The check-in process took almost thirty minutes which concluded with the formal introduction of my lady’s maid whose sole purpose was to cater to my every need during my visit. She immediately led me to a well-appointed rental clothing boutique, and we spent more than an hour selecting Victorian attire for me to wear during my stay. This included everything from undergarments, to formal and casual dresses, to shoes and jewelry. Oh, the jewelry! The diamonds and emeralds and rubies and sapphires were so magnificent. They rivaled the English and Russian crown jewels. I chose pieces worth millions and millions of dollars and none of the well-trained staff blinked an eye at my extravagance.
An escort led me, my lady’s maid and the three stewards carrying my packages from the boutique to the first of the inn’s three guest rooms – The Erstwhile Suite. Once my maid helped me change my clothing and arranged my hair in an era-appropriate style, I took some time to settle in, enjoy a cup of Earl Grey Cream tea and gaze out the window.
I spent the rest of that first afternoon leisurely exploring the lovely grounds, pausing to wave at Mr. Archibald Wentworth as he played croquet on the west lawn. I’d met him in the stately lobby prior to checking in. It was his second day at the resort, his turn to stay in The Extant Suite.
When I returned to my quarters, the maid was ready to help me dress for the formal dinner. The lovely, floor length red and black gown included an exquisitely beaded band around the tight waist with a matching beaded shawl and hairpiece. The accompanying ruby and diamond jewelry I wore to complement the dress was simply stunning.
The resort’s only other guest was Mr. Randolph Von Holzer. As it was the German’s last night at The Downy Gammon House, he was ensconced in the Expropriations Suite. He stood as I approached the table, kissed my hand, and immediately began to regale Mr. Wentworth and me with tales of his extravagant youth as the only heir of a Bavarian billionaire. I must admit he was quite charming and devastatingly handsome, although the dark circles under his eyes belied his exuberance.
Our dinner service began promptly at 8pm with a creamy Julienne soup full of tender, finely cut vegetables and small loaves of fragrant crusty bread with herbed butter. Next came a delicious lobster Rissoles. The braised beef entrée with curried cauliflower and parsley mashed potatoes was accompanied by a thick gravy and Yorkshire pudding. Dessert was a delightful Neapolitan cake with fresh strawberries. I enjoyed the company, particularly the flirtation with Mr. Von Holzer, as much as the excellent cuisine.
Later I soaked in the claw foot tub in my chambers, read a book, and relaxed prior to climbing into the four-post cherry bed where I peacefully drifted off to sleep.
The dreams started almost at once. I was surrounded by a group of otherworldly, impeccably dressed people, all poking and prodding me as if I were a racehorse they were interested in purchasing. They kept up a discourse debating my merits and faults as they ran their hands over my legs, opened my mouth to check my teeth, argued about the color of my eyes, and otherwise scrutinized every inch of me.
I was peppered with questions about my past and the answers came unbidden from my mind as scenes from a movie projected on the wall at the end of the bed. Nothing they asked was off limits; I couldn’t stop myself from showing them every last detail of my life. Some took notes, others nodded or scoffed, while a few waved me off and left the room through the very walls!
The following morning, I was puzzled by the dreams. I’d never experienced anything like them and when I saw a small bruise on my upper arm as I bathed, I was certain I remembered the woman who’d pinched me in that very spot during one of the dreams as she informed the others she wanted to check the elasticity of my skin.
Breakfast was served in my suite and I decided to spend the rest of the morning visiting the hedge maze. I asked my lady’s maid to send someone to me once my things had been moved to the Extant Suite and requested that lunch be served in my new quarters.
I passed Mr. Von Holzer in the first-floor corridor and greeted him warmly. He seemed not himself. His movements were slightly jerky and when he turned towards me to return my greeting, his eyes appeared to be glazed over. Perhaps he had been drinking all night.
His butler gently led him forward reminding him it was time to check out. I must admit, I was sorry to see him go. He’d been such an intriguing dinner companion last evening. Perhaps I would contact him when I returned home.
The maze was a wonderful distraction and I enjoyed it immensely. Lunch was delicious and I took a delightful mid-afternoon nap prior to being dressed and styled for dinner.
Mr. Wentworth dutifully introduced me to the new guest, a Mrs. Henrietta Charles, who graciously asked me to call her Henny. We found many interesting topics of discussion as the dinner courses were served, but the sadness showed through it all on Henny’s face. As dessert was set in front of us, she admitted she’d been recently widowed and was at a loss for what to do now that her beloved husband was gone. Mr. Wentworth and I offered our most sincere condolences.
That evening I took a long soak in rose scented bath oil, continued the book I’d begun reading the night before, and requested a snifter of brandy from my maid before she turned down my bed.
The dreams returned to me that night. My ethereal visitors seemed to grow in number. Some were so lifelike I could see the wrinkles on their faces and the length of their eyelashes. Others were like wisps of smoke, slowly fading in and out of view.
They demanded all the details of my day-to-day life. My work. My finances. My friends and lovers. They asked about the real estate I owned and the car I drove. Just as the night before, I had no power to refuse them. The movie projector of my mind showed them everything they wanted to know.
I woke exhausted and fearful. But fearful of what? I couldn’t say.
The lady’s maid pretended not to notice my state and took extra care in covering the dark circles under my eyes when she helped me prepare of the day. I wanted to rest, to relax and asked her what resort amenities she’d recommend. She suggested the spa and I immediately agreed, asking her to schedule several treatments for me. She did so and made all the necessary arrangements for my move to The Expropriation Suite.
The spa was exactly what I needed to revive my spirits and calm my nerves. I felt remarkably better by the time my lady’s maid came to escort me from the spa to my new room. As she held open the door to the Expropriation Suite for me, I saw that it was beautifully furnished, but gooseflesh covered my body as I entered the chamber. I rubbed my arms and thought I saw a fleeting look of sadness on my maid's face as she curtsied and closed the door behind me.
I barely remember dinner that evening. Henny and I were joined by a Mr. Bernard Winston. I am certain the food was outstanding, but truth be told I’d been unable to overcome my fatigue and became restless and distracted as the dinner progressed.
I chose to remain in the common areas of the manor for a few hours after dinner, finally returning to the Expropriation Suite near midnight. There was just something off, something bordering on sinister about my new accommodations. My lady’s maid had a cup of calming Chamomile tea ready for me and hurried to fulfill my request for a snifter of brandy.
After she helped me prepare for bed, my maid bade me farewell. She turned just before leaving the suite and gave me a sad smile. “I wish you all the best,” she hesitated as if afraid to go on. She sighed and murmured “Don’t worry, it isn't as bad as it seems, and maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones and not be chosen by any of them.”
I was sure I’d misunderstood her. It was such a strange thing to say. I gulped down the brandy and began to relax as I sipped the soothing tea. I climbed into the comfortable bed, pulled the covers up and willed myself to let sleep take me.
I was dreaming of home, of my own bed, of perhaps taking a trip to a white, sandy beach when they came for me.
Two liveried men took me by the arms and pulled me out of bed.
My maid held aside the tapestry covering the end wall and pushed open the door hidden beneath it. As my escorts pulled me through the door, I saw tears running down her face.
The room we entered was filled with the otherworldly visitors from my dreams. They all stared at me as I was led to front of the room and placed beside a man at a podium.
“Ladies and gentlemen tonight we have 29-year-old Clarissa Pepito from San Diego, California. She is in good health with no known medical issues, is single with no current steady love interest, owns two homes and is worth approximately $290,000,000.00,” he nodded to the men still holding my arms and they turned me in a slow circle. “The bidding will open at $50,0000,000.00 or 25 souls.”
Bidding? Souls? What in the hell was happening to me?
I was so shocked and so frightened I honestly didn’t know if it was a dream or if I was really being auctioned off. And If I was being sold, for what purpose?
I tried to pull away, but my captors held me firmly in place.
By the time I came back to myself, the bidding was at $100,000,000.00 or 50 souls. The auctioneer asked if there were any more bids and none were forthcoming. “Going once, going twice …”.
“Wait!" Someone near the back of the room held up his bidding paddle. “I bid $110,000,000.000 and I’ll throw in 5 souls with it for good measure. This one is mine.” The voice was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
The auctioneer went through the drill again and when no one countered the bid, he yelled that I’d been sold to bidder number 942.
The crowd parted and I stared in shock as the wraithlike version of my grandfather strode towards me.
“Hello Clarissa. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re going to be happy to see me,” grandfather Pepito said with a sadistic look on his face. “Prepare her gentlemen.”
The men holding my arms dragged me back to the bedroom of my suite as my grandfather and the auctioneer followed along behind us. They chained my arms above my head and stepped back.
“What in the hell is going on? What are you going to do to me?” I cried out.
“It’s very simple,” my grandfather said calmly. “I’ve purchased your body and all of your known financial assets – which are really mine anyway. Your soul will be removed and mine will take its place. I will return to the human world and live out the rest of your life as you.”
He laughed as the mingled expressions of shock, hurt and horror crossed my face. “Oh Clarissa, if not me it would have been one of the others and after all, without me you wouldn’t even exist. I think this is a fair repayment for the fortune you inherited.”
“Miss Pepito, I must remind you that you signed the paperwork authorizing us to put you up for auction,” the auctioneer said as he prepared to remove my soul. “Per that agreement, your soul becomes the property of The Downy Gammon House and will remain in its employ until such time that you can afford to purchase another human’s body and assets per the terms of the contract.”