Wednesday, August 9, 2023

A Weekend at Munson Manor Resumes

A Weekend at Munson Manor is an interactive Choose Your Own Path story. Each episode, readers vote for the path they would like to take. Together, we will follow the path with the most votes.

Since it has been so long, here is a quick recap of the story so far. If you remember it, feel free to jump ahead to the latest episode.

A Weekend at Munson Manor

Episode 1: Welcome to Munson Manor

“Welcome to Munson Manor. May I take your coat?”

Nodding, you remove your windbreaker. As you pass it to the butler, you can't help but feel underdressed in your jeans and sweater. The man before you is wearing a three-piece black suit with a matching tie. Unlike you, he looks like he stepped out of the 1940s.

The butler drapes your jacket over his arm and gestures you inside. “Please come in. What is your name?”

Out of habit, you almost respond with your real name. But just in time, you remember the information packet you received when you registered for this weekend. “Dr. Poole.”

The butler nods. “Welcome, Doctor. My name is Charles. If you have any issues this weekend, do not hesitate to let me know. If you please, allow me to show you to your room.”

But Charles isn’t really looking for your permission. He grabs your suitcase, extending the telescopic handle and dragging it into the hall.

As you follow, you can’t help but admire your new surroundings. Late afternoon light shines through the stained glass windows on either side of the main entrance. The wooden floors are in a diagonal parquet style you only recognize because you saw it mentioned on a television show once. To your right is a heavy bench made of a dark wood. The back contains an intricate carving, but in your rush to keep up with the butler, you do not have time to discern the pattern.

Paintings hang on burgundy walls with ornate walnut wainscotting. They look to be oil paintings, but you are no art connoisseur. All you know is that they are a mixture of landscapes and portraits.

Doorways lead to several rooms, but the butler gives you no time to explore. You have just enough time to notice a grandfather clock on each side of the room before realizing the butler is already halfway up the stairs with velvet carpet the color of a fine merlot.

You hurry to catch up, passing another grandfather clock on the landing. How many clocks does one mansion need?

At the top of the stairs, the butler turns right into a hallway with white marble floors and three white doors. The one on your right is ajar. The butler pushes it open and gestures inside.

“Your room, Dr. Poole.”

Compared to the rest of the house, the room is small. A four-poster bed sits to the right and an oversized armchair to the left. Between them is a white door with frosted glass. Black and white photographs—again, a mixture of landscapes and portraits—cover the white walls.

The wall to your right, facing the bed, contains a fireplace so small, you hardly noticed it. The wooden mantle and sides are painted the exact shade of the wall and the heart is so small, you wonder whether you will even be able to have a fire. Since there is no nearby woodpile, you assume not.

On your left is a small wooden desk. The seat of the matching chair is a white fabric with a forest scene embroidered in red thread. The desk is bare except for a blue folder.

The butler wheels your suitcase in front of an armoire behind you in the opposite corner of the room, gesturing to the closed doors. “You best get dressed. Dinner will be served at seven.”

With a nod, he leaves, closing the door behind him. But you’re not ready to get dressed. You want to examine that folder on the desk. This is not a period piece. This folder is very modern. You use them all the time at work.

The label on the front reads Dr. Poole. Curious, you take it to the bed. Inside are two pockets, but the sheet between them is loose. You read that first, but quickly realize it is the same letter you received in your registration email. A summary of the weekend and a reminder to remain in character at all times.

The rest of the pages, you quickly realize, are more information about your character. You quickly learn that Dr. Poole is a physicist researching uses for x-rays beyond medical imaging. You work at a nearby university, but you have reached a stumbling block in your research. A weekend at the manor sounded like the perfect change of scene to clear your head.

Now that you fully understand your character, it is time to get dressed. Moving aside your suitcase, you open the armoire to find several outfits. According to what you have just read, tonight’s supper is a formal affair, so you need to pick one of the fancy outfits.

Which should you put on?

Episode 2: The Floor-length Gown

The taffeta gown is a gorgeous light blue with puffy short sleeves. The flattering brocade neckline is adorned with small flowers in the center. As you remove the dress from the closet, you are surprised at how lightweight it feels. And, you quickly realize, it fits you perfectly. At least now you understand why the registration had asked for all your measurements.

The silver dress shoes have a small heel, just within your comfort level. Frowning, you examine yourself in the mirror on the inside of the armoire door. Not bad. You definitely look like you belong in the 1940s.

Time to see what your host has in store for you this weekend.

You have no problem finding your way to the main hall, where the butler is standing idly. What was his name again?

He bobs his head—somewhere between a nod and a bow—when he sees you. “Dr. Poole. You are all settled in?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Excellent. The others are in their rooms. Would you like to wait in the parlor?” He gestures to a room on your left.

With a shrug, you turn into the room. Gold-framed portraits adorned rose walls with dark-red flowers adorning them. You aren’t positive, but it looks as if the walls may be covered in fabric instead of paper. Either way, they nearly match the drapes, all of which are open. White sheers filter in the last vestiges of daylight, adding to the light from the sconces on every wall and the glowing fireplace to your right.

On the far wall a cherry wood table sits between two windows. Upon it rests an assortment of glass bottles in various shapes and sizes, each filled with a different color liquid. To your right, nestled between two more windows is a hutch of the same wood. A matching chair sits beside it, its embroidered seat containing the same pattern as the walls and drapes. To your left is a large wooden panel you assume is some type of sliding pocket door. On your right, two overstuffed powder-blue couches sit on an ornate Persian rug with two matching armchairs, all facing the fire.

Without realizing it, you find yourself drifting into the room, drawn to the warmth of the fire. Unlike home, there are no electronics. No computer. No television. Not even a phone. Combined with your outfit, you truly feel as if you have stepped back in time.

Hearing voices, you turn to the doorway. You cannot see anyone, but you can definitely hear two men talking. And one of them just uttered your name. Curious, you inch closer to the door, standing against the wall so no one will see you.

“Yes, sir.” You recognize that voice. Isn’t that the butler whose name you keep forgetting? “Dr. Poole has arrived, changed, and is waiting in the parlor. Miss Lewis has yet to arrive. Everyone else is in their rooms.”

“Very well. Let’s—”

A buzzing sound interrupts the second man. Wordlessly, footsteps retreat—one set running, the other walking calmly. A moment later, you hear the front door open and a new exchange, this time between the butler and a woman. You hear him giving her much the same speech you received as he leads her up the stairs.

As you return to the fireplace, you wonder who that second man in the hall was. If he was another guest, shouldn’t he have joined you in the parlor? And how did he know everyone’s name?

Loud voices break your concentration. Two new voices, a man and a woman. You cannot hear the words. Are they arguing or just speaking in raised tones?

The butler’s voice interrupts them. “Mr. Rollins. Professor Mills. Dinner will be served shortly. If you would be so kind, the rest of the guests are gathering in the parlor.”

The man grunts something unintelligible, but the woman speaks. “Thank you, Charles.”

A moment later, the pair enter the room. The middle-aged man is tall, but seems to be having trouble fitting into his gray tweed blazer and green herringbone trousers. His maroon tie has a navy zigzag running from his neck to where it disappears behind his jacket buttons. His scuffed shoes are the same dull brown as his unkempt hair.

The slender woman behind him looks about the same age as the man. Her floor-length rose gown has a gathered bodice with thin shoulder straps and pleats beneath her waistline. Her short black hair curls tightly against her scowling face.

Neither seem to notice you. The woman huffs to the nearest armchair, sitting with her arms and legs crossed and glaring at the floor.

The man, meanwhile, goes straight to the table and examines the liquids. He lifts one, removes the top, and sniffs. With a shrug, he reaches for a rounded drinking glasses and pours three fingers of the amber liquid. After returning the bottle to the table, he steps to the nearby window.

Obviously neither of these guests wish to speak with each other. Maybe you should break the uncomfortable silence. But to whom should you talk first?

Episode 3: The woman

You move to the chair facing the woman, clearing your throat gently as you sit. She glares at you, but immediately relaxes her face and sends you a weak smile.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”

“Hi. I’m Dr. Poole.” You extend a hand.

She shakes it briefly. “Professor Mills.”

“Ooh. Professor. That sounds interesting. What do you teach?”

She bites her lip. “English. Oh, no, wait. History. That’s right. Medieval history.” She shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I haven’t had a chance to really absorb my character yet.”

You give a small laugh. “That’s okay. That’s part of the fun of this weekend, isn’t it?”

“Have you done a weekend like this before?”

You shake your head. “No. This is my first time. But I love reading cozy mysteries. This sounded like a lot of fun.”

The woman’s smile finally meets her eyes. “I love cozies, too. What’s your favorite?”

Before you can answer, the man approaches with the glass in his hand. When he speaks, you can hear the disdain mixed with the alcohol. “Excuse me, but we are supposed to be in character.”

Puzzled, you turn to him. “We are.”

“No, you’re not.”

The woman rolls her eyes. “Here we go again.”

Ignoring her, he sends you a pointed look. “Cozy mysteries as a genre did not come about until the end of the twentieth century. As our characters are meant to be in the 1940s, we would have no knowledge of such books.”

Smirking to yourself, you turn back to the woman. “Have you read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells? I think that would be so cool. I would go to the future to see what kinds of books people like to read.”

The woman smiles. “I bet they get so frustrated with these new noir books that they try to get back to the golden age of Agatha Christie. I would call books like that cozy mysteries.”

“You know what might be fun to read? Books that have dogs in them.”

“Or maybe recipes!”

With a hurrumph and a scowl, the man returns to beverage table. Professor Mills leans a little closer, lowering her voice. “Thank you. That man can be so insufferable.”

“Do you know him?”

She shakes her head. “Not really. We met upstairs. He calls himself Mr. Rollings. I think that’s his character name because when I tried to introduce myself, he went on this rant about staying in character. Thankfully, that butler guy. What’s his name?”


She nods. “Yeah, him. He interrupted Rollings and sent us in here.” She gestured to you. “What about you? Are you a doctor in real life?”

“Ugh. Seriously?” The man stomps back to you and the professor. “What part of stay in character is so difficult for you to understand? If you’re going to do this all weekend—”

Professor Mills turns in her seat, but not before you catch the angry glare in her eyes. “Some of us want to know about the people we are living with this weekend. Not the make-believe characters.”

“But that defeats the point. Why bother being in character in the first place? If I wanted to tell you my personal life—”

“Like anyone would want to know your personal life.” Letting out a huffy breath, Professor Mills turns around to face you. “So, you’re a doctor?”

You nod. “A physicist at the university.” You look behind her. “What about you, Mr. Rollins. What do you do?”

He frowns. “I’m a detective. Private investigator.”

Professor Mills turns around just enough to see him out of the corner of her eye. “Oh. Are you going to investigate the crime tonight?”

Tossing his hands in exasperation, he nearly spills his drink. “Insufferable.”

The professor looks offended, but you want to laugh. Is she trying to irritate him? Or is she naturally this antagonistic? Since you can cut the tension in the air with a knife, you try for a neutral topic. “What did you think of your rooms?”

Professor Mills brings her arms to her chest with a sound of excitement. “Ooh! Mine is so sweet! It has an adorable little fireplace. And all the pictures on the wall! I’m pretty sure its the local beach and it looks so inviting. That may be my next vacation.”

Mr. Rollings grunts. “My room is full of portraits. It feels like I’m being watched.”

“Maybe you are.”

Thankfully, before another fight can erupt, a couple enters the room. Arms linked, they are obviously here together and, if their bright smiles are any indication, thoroughly enjoying themselves. As they stand in the doorway, you consider your options.

Should you greet the newcomers, leaving the professor and detective to start snapping at each other again? Or should you wave politely and invite them to join your tense little circle?

Episode 4: Wave Politely

If you leave, the professor and detective will most likely start snapping at each other again. In the interest of keeping the peace, you wave to the newcomers.

The gray-haired man turns to you with a smile. In direct contrast to Mr. Rollins, the newcomer is smartly dressed in a double-breasted black suit with a matching vest. His perfectly folded pocket square and solid tie are the same royal blue as the dress of the elderly woman beside him. The gathered bodice with a plunging neckline appears to flow freely from her waist. As she turns, you can’t help but wonder whether the pearls around her neck are part of her costume or her own.

The way the woman grasps the man’s arm in both her hands makes you fairly confident the two know each other. When you gesture for them to join you, they slowly make their way toward you while Mr. Rollins returns to the bar.

After the newcomers settle on the unoccupied couch, you turn to them. “Hello. I’m Dr. Poole.”

The woman smiles. “Esther Giles. Nice to meet you.” She gestures to the man beside her. “This is my husband, Andrew.”

The professor glances between them. “Ooh! Are you really married? Like, not just for the weekend.”

Mrs. Giles smirks. “Yes, dear. And what’s your name?”

“Oh. I’m Kai—I mean, Jennie. Professor Jennie Mills.”

“Nice to meet you.” Mrs. Giles sent a pointed look toward Mr. Rollins, but he was too busy glaring out the window to notice.

The professor did, however. Rolling her eyes, she waved a dismissive hand in his direction. “That’s Mr. Rollins. Feel free to ignore him.”

Mr. Rollins grunts, although you cannot tell if it is in annoyance or agreement. Either way, you return your attention to the couple on the couch.

“So, is this your first weekend like this?”

Mr. Giles shakes his head. “This is our third?” He glances at his wife, who nods in confirmation before he turns back to you. “Yes, our third such weekend. We’ve been to others, of course, but this is one of our favorites.”

Professor Mills’s eyes grow wide. “Others? Really? I’ve never heard of this until I booked this one.”

Mrs. Giles nods sagely. “Oh, yes. My favorite was the mystery cruise.”

You frown. “How does that work? I mean, here there’s only a few of us. Aren’t there like thousands of people on a cruise ship?”

“This was a small boat. I think there were twenty of us. It was a cruise along the Mississippi and had a Mark Twain theme. We were all named after his characters. If I remember correctly, Becky Thatcher murdered Mark Twain.”

Professor Mills bounces a little in her seat. “Oh, that sounds so exciting.”

“May I sit here?”

You turn to the unfamiliar voice, a young woman gesturing to the other half of Professor Mills’s couch. Her pale pink dress with the flouncy scoop neck flares from her narrow waist. Although, judging by the way she keeps tugging at it, you wonder if perhaps she would have been more comfortable in jeans.

Professor Mills smiles at the woman. “Of course. I’m Professor Mills. That’s Doc Poole.” She points to you before gesturing to the opposite couch. “And that’s Mr. and Mrs. Giles. They were just telling us about other mystery events they’ve been to. What’s your name?”

The woman bites her lip. “Uh, Elaine. No, wait. Aileen. Sorry. Having trouble remembering everything. But, my name is Aileen Lewis. I’m a secretary at a law firm. How about you?”

“Oh, I’m a history professor.”

Miss Lewis makes a face. “I was never very good at history.” She turns to Mrs. Giles. “What do you do?”

The older woman gestures to her husband. “Mr. Giles worked for the Post Office for over fifty years before retiring last year. I was, am, a homemaker.”

Miss Lewis nods appreciatively. “Wow. Fifty years. That’s a long time.” She turns to you. “You’re a doctor?”

“A physicist.”

“What does that mean? I wasn’t that good at science, either.”

You give a polite laugh. “I study x-rays. Right now, we use them for medicine. But, I’ve been exploring other uses for them. Like maybe we can use them for energy or something.”

“That would be interesting.”

Professor Mills turns to Miss Lewis. “So, what made you decide to come here this weekend?”

“Oh. My cousin came here a few weeks ago and had a fantastic time. She thought I would love it, so she paid for my weekend and everything.”

“Did she come with you?”

Miss Lewis sighs. “No. She couldn’t get the time off work. But I still think this will be fun.”

The butler—what’s his name again?—appears in the doorway. “Sorry to interrupt, but dinner is served.”

As you and your companions get to your feet, he opens the wooden panel in the back of the room to reveal an elegant dining room. Three dark chairs sit on each side of the long table with another at each head. A white cloth covers the table. At each place setting, a small card sits on the plate. Approaching the nearest one, you realize they are your names.

You are sitting at one head of the table. Professor Mills sits to your left. The placard on the right is for Mr. Kline.

Professor Mills takes her seat with a groan. Before you can ask why, Mr. Rollins sits beside her with a smirk. You want to groan, too. Does this mean you will have to deal with their bickering all weekend?

When everyone is seated, the butler gestures to a new person entering the room. Who is it?

Episode 5: A Man in a Suit

“May I present your host tonight, Mr. Maxwell Munson.”

With a small bow, Charles takes a step backward and closes the pocket doors, leaving you and the rest of the party guests with your host. He glances around the table, his salt-and-pepper hair bouncing slightly as he turns. After a moment, he makes a confused grimace.

“I believe we are missing someone.” Mr. Munson walks to the empty chair beside you, reading the placard before nodding and taking a seat at the opposite end of the table. “Well, while we wait for Mr. Kline, I’d like to welcome you all to my home.”

Professor Mills smiles. “It’s so lovely. May I ask how old it is?”

Mr. Kline looks pensive for a moment. “Nearly a century. It was built just before the Civil War. 1850s, I believe? It was built before Lincoln toured the state in his 1860 presidential campaign. My grandmother—this was her house, you see. She made it known to whomever would listen that Lincoln drove past here on his way to make his speech.”

Professor Mills wrinkles her nose. But, that’s was closer to two—”

Mr. Rollins elbows her none too gently as he reaches for his water glass. “Oh, excuse me.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “You’re not excused.”

Mrs. Giles seems to sense the fight about to break out. She turns to your host, who is sitting beside her. “So, what can we expect this evening?”

Mr. Munson smiles knowingly. “Well, I don’t want to give away too much—”

The door beside him opens and in walks the butler with a silver tray. “Shall I serve the salads, sir?”

Mr. Munson nods. “Of course, Charles. Please.”

The butler places his tray on a nearby sideboard and leaves. You glance at it hesitantly. Are you supposed to retrieve the dishes yourselves?

You glance at your companions, but no one else seems bothered. Mr. Munson is asking Miss Lewis about her dress. Mr. and Mrs. Giles are listening attentively. Mr. Rollins and Professor Mills are staring daggers at each other.

Charles returns a moment later with a second tray. Placing it beside the first, he removes two plate and places them in front of the elderly couple. As he places the last salad before the empty seat beside you, you glance at the salad before you. At least, you think it is a salad. The lettuce seems to be hiding under a mixture of nuts and fruit. Grapes, apples, walnuts, and almonds are drenched in a creamy white dressing. After placing your napkin across your lap, you take a hesitant bite.

Not bad. Too rich for you to enjoy on a daily basis, but definitely not bad.

Taking another bite, you glance up to see Miss Lewis biting her lip as she pokes at her dish. “I’ve never seen a salad like this.”

Mr. Munson doesn’t quite hide his smirk. “It’s called a Waldorf. Fruits and nuts in a mayonnaise-based dressing over a bed of lettuce. All the rage this year. According to Chef, it’s a must for every dinner party.”

Professor Mills sends him a hesitant look. “Does that mean we’re eating this again tomorrow?”

Your host gives a polite laugh. “No, I think we will try to diversify our menu a little.”

Mr. Giles nods. “My cholesterol thanks you.”

Professor Mills gestures to the empty seat across from her as she turns to the head of the table. “Mr. Munson? Do you know where our other guest is?”

He sighs. “Alas, no. I suppose he had car trouble.”

An earlier conversation pops into your head. When you were alone in the parlor, you had overheard two voices: the butler and a man you now recognized as Mr. Munson. And hadn’t the butler said that everyone had arrived?

You are still contemplating this when Charles returns to the room with another tray. Again, he places it on the sideboard, retrieving a second tray before serving the next course, a creamy white soup you have no trouble recognizing.

Charles is still serving Mrs. Giles when Mr. Rollins sighs contentedly. “New England Clam Chowder may be my favorite soup ever. Clams, bacon, potatoes. What else do you need?”

Professor Mills shrugs. “My grandma adds cheddar to hers.”

Mr. Rollins makes a face. “That sounds … actually, that sounds pretty good.” Is it your imagination, or does he send her a quick smile before returning to his soup.

When the butler returns to the dining room a moment later, he is not carrying a tray. Instead, he walks to the head of the table, bending to whisper something in Mr. Munson’s ear. When he leaves, your host glances at each of you.

What does he say?

Episode 6: Just the Seven of You

“Well, friends, it looks as if it will be just the seven of us this weekend.” Mr. Munson shrugs. “Unfortunately, Mr. Klein has taken ill.”

As the butler exchanges your soup for cod balls, drizzled in egg sauce, your host sits back with a sigh.

“Well, since this is everyone, I’d like to welcome you all to my home for the weekend. My name is Maxwell Munson, and I have been running these retreat weekends for several years. From this moment on, assume everything is part of the game. At some point this evening, a crime will be committed. Your job is to determine who is responsible.”

Everyone around the table nods. You all know this. It was the reason you were all here.

Mr. Munson gestures to the doorway as Charles enters. “If you can figure out whodunit, ring this gong.”

Everyone turns to get a glance at the table-topped sized gong in the butler’s hands. A black and gold disk suspended within a square black frame. A matching mallet dangles from the top to rest beside the frame.

None of the other guests seem to be interested in their gong. They all return their attention to their meals, so you are the only one who notices Charles leave the room.

“Hey! Where’s he taking that?”

Everyone again turns when you point to the door.

Mr. Munson gives a polite laugh. “Do not worry. He is simply returning it to the parlor. It lives on the mantle above the fireplace. Now, as I was saying, should you hear the gong, that is the signal for you to report immediately to the parlor. When we have all gathered, the ringer can make an accusation.”

Since everyone appears to understand the game, the conversation turns to small talk. As Mr. and Mrs. Giles share stories of their previous murder mystery events, the butler exchanges your empty plate for the main entrée: baked chicken with peas, spinach, and potatoes.

Your first forkful is almost to your mouth when you hear a loud noise. A deep reverberation. Like a gong.

You all exchange worried glances across the table. You don’t know about anyone else, but your first thought is, “Who’s missing?”

No one. Everyone is still at the table. Professor Mills looks confused. Miss Lewis looks concerned. Mr. and Mrs. Giles look eager. But you only care about Mr. Munson.

He looks annoyed. You’re pretty sure the ringing of the bell was not planned.

Pushing yourself away from the table, you place your napkin beside your plate. “Well, rules are rules. Should we go see who rang the gong?”

A few other guests nod, but Mr. Munson waves his hand in a gesture indicating you should stay in your seat. “Now, now. Don’t get too excited. Charles probably dropped the gong.”

Although he appears to be smiling, Mr. Munson does not look very convincing. You’re pretty sure something is wrong.

Your suspicions are confirmed when you hear a scream. All of you jump to your feet. While Mr. Rollins and Professor Mills rush out the door with Miss Lewis, you follow Mr. Munson and the elderly couple to the partition. Mr. Munson opens the pocket door as the others rush in from the main hall.

Near the fireplace stands a man dressed in the same tweed suit as Mr. Giles, although he looks much closer to middle-aged. He is staring at something near his feet.

You take another step forward to see over the couch and notice a second man. The butler. He is laying on the floor, the gong near his right hand.

Professor Mills gasps. “Is he okay?”

She takes a step, but Mr. Rollins holds her back. “You can’t touch anything. This is a crime scene. We have to collect all the facts.”

Struggling to free herself, she glowers at him. “The man is hurt! We’ve got to help him.”

“Ugh. Why are you even here? Obviously, the butler is dead and we have to figure out who killed him and why.”

Beside her, Miss Lewis still has her dinner napkin in her hand. Running it through her fingers, she glances around the room. “Well, game or not, shouldn’t we do something? We need to make sure Charles is okay.” She turns to you. “Aren’t you a doctor?”

You quickly shake your head. “Not that kind of doctor. I’m a physicist. I don’t know anything about … that.” You gesture to the man on the floor.

The stranger shakes his head mournfully. “He’s dead.”

Mr. Munson frowns at the man. “I’m sorry. Who are you?”

“Sorry. George Kline. I was resting in my room when I heard the gong. I came to see what was going on and I found him.” He shudders. “I was a field medic in the war, so I know a little. Enough to know the man is dead.”

Mrs. Giles frowns at him. “But why did you scream?”

His face turns red. “I was hurrying out of the room to come find you all, and I stubbed my toe on the couch.”

You glance at the people around you before turning your attention to Mr. Munson. “Should we call an ambulance? Or is this part of the game?”

Mr. Munson steps forward. “Yes.”

His voice is shaky, and you aren’t sure which question he is answering.

What do you think?

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