The Blood Brothers are two of my favorites middle grade authors. I became hooked when I read their first Fright Friends Adventure book, The House on Creep Street. They hit it even further out of the creepy park with the next in the series Beware the Monstrous Manther!

The Fright Friends Adventures series is the first middle grade spooky read that’s really connected with me. It’s funny, clever, and has a ton of nods to classic horror that appeal to young and older readers.

When I was scheduling my 2017 Trick-or-Treat chronicles interviews, I knew that I had to have them on. Thankfully, they agreed.


Hi Blood Brothers! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. I am really enjoying your books and I have to ask…What inspired your MG FRIGHT FRIENDS adventures books (The House on Creep St & Beware the Monstrous Manther!)?

Edgar Blood: The books are based on childhood writings of the recurring protagonist, Joey Tonelli, who is based on a real person, and his real boyhood friends. The writings were discovered several years ago and caused much delight and amusement because of how simplistic and innocent they were. We decided this would be a good concept to explore, so we fleshed out these stories into novels, having the kids be the core characters and heroes. The tone is very much inspired by a lot of kid-friendly books, films, and television shows that were popular during the ‘80s and ‘90s — R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books; films by Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante; and Are You Afraid of the Dark? And this was before Stranger Things came along and stole our thunder!

Allan Blood: In a way, we’re trying to write the type of books we would’ve loved to read when we were children — which was over 100 years ago, back when the only entertainment children had was that big hoop thing with the stick. I forget what it was called. Hoop Stick, I think. Anyway, we have always loved the odd and macabre, and wanted to transfer that love onto the printed page.


House-On-Creep-StreetHow did your co-author pen name come about, writing as The Blood Brothers?

Allan Blood: It just made the most sense. It has ‘Blood’ in it! Just like us!


Haha! I love it. So tell me, what is your writing process like? Tea? Cookies? Music? Silence?

Allan Blood: First, we tend to come up with a rough — sometimes very rough — outline: where we want the story to go, what we want the characters to experience, etc., and then we hit the ground running. Sometimes the outline we come up with goes right out the window, because we never know where the story is going to take us. We usually alternate writing chapters for the first draft, then go back through it and tinker around until it feels finished. And even then there’s always those tiny details that you think about changing, but at some point you need to put a pin in it and decide it’s finished. Or else you’ll go bonkers.

Edgar Blood: Allan and I know what kind of story we want to write, and what we want it to be about, but sometimes getting to the finale differs somewhat in our head, so we find that even though we are writing together, we still surprise each other, which is quite a bit of fun. One thing we try to maintain is that every novel features an otherwordly problem — whether it be ghosts or mad scientists — but also a real-world problem that kids have to face every day, like bullies, or the fear of being different. Those two problems are intertwined, and by story’s end, both of them are solved — or at least addressed.

As for the actual writing stage, I cannot write in silence, as it makes me nervous, so I tend to write with instrumental music. And sometimes the music I listen to makes me nervous, so I just go right to the insane asylum, wave hello to Barney the orderly, and I do my writing there.


Oh good. I’m glad I’m not the only one writing in asylums these days. Do you believe in ghosts? Werewolves? Vampires?

Edgar Blood: I once saw a ghost feed a vampire to a werewolf. Or maybe that was just some Beware-The-Monstrous-Manther!wonderful dream…

Allan Blood: Let’s just say we really want to believe in ghosts. They have yet to make their presence known to us, though. Even when we go to the graveyard and scream at their tombstones.


Hmm. Screaming at tombstones. Sounds effective. I’d keep trying. So I have to ask, have you ever had a real life spooky encounter?

Edgar Blood: The day I met Allan. He was eating an entire human man.

Allan Blood: Well, once, I went to London and asked if anyone had seen Jack the Ripper. “Jack the Ripper died over a hundred years ago!” someone replied. Pretty freaky, huh?!


Haha! You guys are killing me! Your books remind me of some of my favorite scary movies. What are your favorite scary movies?

Edgar Blood: I quite like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari because it was about my extended family. Rumors suggest the original title was The Big Box of Dr. Blood, but they changed it because it was “too stupid.”

Allan Blood: Have you ever seen that movie Tourist Trap? It’s about a man who had a bunch of vulgar mannequins! Terrifying! Anyway, my answer is The Night Dracula Saved the World.


What is the best costume / most memorable you’ve ever had for Halloween?

Allan Blood: I like my Halloween costumes to reflect current events, so one year I dressed up like President Herbert Hoover. Otherwise, Halloween is a holiday we try to keep alive all year, so while we’re always thrilled when October comes along, it’s just another month that allows us to yell about ghouls.

Edgar Blood: One time I went to a Halloween ball dressed as a psychopath. NO ONE knew!


the-blood-brothersHahaha, those psychopath costumes are the best. Hidden in plain sight! What is your favorite scary, spooky, or fall read?

Edgar Blood: One of my favorite Halloween novels is Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. It’s thrilling, scary, and even emotional, all while honoring the myths of Halloween and meshing them with everyday life. Every year I also re-read Halloween Horrors, edited by Alan Ryan, which is my favorite Halloween anthology.

Allan Blood: I try to read Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree every year around this time. It’s just a perfect encapsulation of how magical autumn, and Halloween in general, can be. I’ve also just started reading Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof by Roger Clarke, and it’s a wonderful, chilly little examination of things that go bump in the night. It’s like a cup of tea on a rainy day wrapped up in a book.


Oh! I love The Halloween Tree! I haven’t heard of Dark Harvest but I’ll have to check it out. If you could choose what goes on your tombstone, what would you have it say?

Edgar Blood: “You are stepping on my bones and crushing them. Please stop stepping on and crushing these bones.”



Haha, love it you guys. Do you have a favorite Halloween song or creepy album?

Allan Blood: The soundtrack to The Village, by Hilary Hahn and James Newton Howard, is my go-to Halloween music. Sad, sweet, string-heavy. I’m going to listen to it right now as I polish these skulls.

Edgar Blood: I make an annual Halloween playlist which is filled with all kinds of stuff. There’s also a throwback concept album from a musician called Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks called “Halloween is Here” which is fun, but I also listen to soundtracks from Danny Elfman, like The Wolfman, Sleepy Hollow, and, The Frighteners. Sometimes I listen to them VERY LOUD. And Allan has to knock on my coffin and say, “Keep it down, you’ll wake Mummy!”


Edgar, I’m going to need a link to that playlist stat! I love Halloween playlists. So tell me guys, what are you working on now? Is there another Fright Friends book in the works? Something else? If nothing else, what kind of book would you like to write next?

Allan Blood: We have a glut of Fright Friends Adventures kicking around — some involving pirates, some involving clowns, all involving screaming. You haven’t seen the last of these books. Unless you fall into a coffin. Then, yes, no more books for you.

Edgar Blood: I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of historical fiction, written in the epistolary format — something partially based on a real event, but completely fictionalized, and written to sound fact-based. I worked on something like this on and off for the last couple years but it BEAT ME TO DEATH, so sadly, I had to let it go. But one day I hope to write something in this form that doesn’t BEAT ME TO DEATH.

I can’t wait for more Fright Friends books! Clowns are scary. I think I’ll go rock in a corner now. But first, the lightning round!


Lightning Round

Say the first word that comes to mind when you see the prompt!


Edgar: Snakes!

Allan: What?



Edgar: Snakes!

Allan: Goo!



Edgar: Snakes!

Allan: A winged creature that flies– oh, you said one word. Uh, wing!



Edgar: Bat!

Allan: SCARY.


Hahaha. I love it! Your shenanigans. Thank you so much for being a part of the Trick-or-Treat Chronicles. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for new Fright Friends Adventure books.


About The Blood Brothers


Edgar and Allan Blood were both October-born and subsequently abandoned in the woods. After being raised by wolves, the brothers set out on a worldwide dirigible journey to find their fortune, where they began honing their literary skills by writing obituaries and ransom notes. To tell them apart, remember: Edgar has an eye patch and Allan has a wooden leg—but sometimes it’s the other way around. When the Blood Brothers are not writing stories, they work as door-to-door coffin salesmen.





The Blood Brothers on Goodreads




Check out the interviews with the authors below (in alphabetical order):

Romily Bernard

The Blood Brothers

Debbie Dadey & Marcia Thornton Jones

Laurie Faria Stolarz

Tessa Gratton

Judith Graves

Kim Harrington

Susan McBride

Madeleine Roux



Welcome to day twenty-one of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #217!

 Thornewood Hotel 217

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Frank glanced up at the bartender as he shook out his fedora.

“‘Scuse me?”

The barrel of a man behind the counter stopped wiping the counter and motioned out the window.

“Dark. Stormy.”

“Yeah. Raining cats and dogs.” As long as they were speaking in clichés he might as well keep it up. “Can’t see past the end of my nose.”

“Right.” The bartender offered him a pack of matches and an ashtray as Frank slipped onto the stool at the counter. “What’ll it be?”

“Whiskey.” Frank struck a match and lit his cigarette, highlighting the sticky spots on the counter in front of him. “Neat.”

“What brings ya out on a night like this?” Bartender took his time with the drink.

“Got lost. Figured I better pull over and find out where the hell I am before I drive off the edge of the Earth.”

“Where ya headed?” Bartender leaned his elbows on the counter as he put the glass down in front of Frank, who threw it back with a gulp, enjoying the sting of the liquor, enjoying the blessed numbness the aftertaste brought even more.


“Pardon my French, but what the fuck’s in Poughkeepsie?”

He swallowed down the burn of the liquor, dreading the thought of what lay ahead of him. “Vacuum cleaner convention.”

Bartender raised an eyebrow. He turned and grabbed the whiskey bottle, topping off Frank’s drink. “This one’s on me.”

“Thanks, friend.”

“Pete.” The bartender offered his meaty hand and they shook.


“Hate to break it to ya, but you’re way past the turn-off for Poughkeepsie. It’s late. Weather’s bad. There’s a hotel up the road about two miles. Thornewood.”

“Great.” Frank took a long drag off his cigarette.

“Only thing is—” Pete leaned in again, keeping his voice low. Frank glanced around. There was no one else in the place. “They say it’s haunted.”


Pete nodded slowly. “Gotta be careful in these parts. All sorts of spooks around. ‘Specially this time of year. Storm riles ‘em up. Best you get off the road until morning. Never know what might get ya.”

He had a manner about him that pulled Frank in. Each word brought him closer to the bar until he was pressed up against it with nowhere else to go. Much like his current situation in life.

“Boo!” Pete boomed.

Frank jumped back, clambering to stop himself from spilling off the stool onto the weathered boards below.

“Jesus.” Frank jabbed out his cigarette as Pete’s shoulders shook in a silent chuckle. The wind howled outside, creeping in through the cracks, causing the building around them to creak and groan as if it were a living thing.

“Sorry. Don’t get much fun around here,” Pete said. “You ain’t sore about it, are ya?”

Frank waved his hand. “Way things are going, I’m surprised you didn’t think I was a ghost.”


Frank took another drink. “No wife. No kids. Pretty much every door I knock on gets slammed in my face. Nobody just buys a new vacuum for no reason. Everybody’s got one already. It breaks, they fix it. May as well go spend the night with the ghosts. I’ll fit right in.”

“Can’t be as bad as all that, can it?”

Frank shrugged. He glanced up in the mirror on the wall and blinked. His face looked blurry, like an eraser had smudged out his features. He felt smudged, blurry, a shadow. A breath and a shake of his head and the distortion was gone.

He downed the rest of his drink and tapped the bar.

“Tell me. If a man disappeared and nobody noticed, did he really exist in the first place?”

Pete scowled and hesitated with the bottle over the glass. “You’re not some kind of lightweight, are ya?”

“What? No.” Frank swatted at the air. “It’s just. You get out alone on the road and your mind starts to wander, you know?”

“Mm.” Pete poured the drink. “This like that tree falls in the forest thing?”

“You feel me.” The whiskey was doing the trick now, and it had been so long since Frank had anybody to talk to about anything other than suction power and warranties that he really let loose. “My girl left me. Sylvia. Said I had a one way ticket on the train to Nowheresville. Ironic, really.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?”

“Nothing personal, Pete, but look around.” Frank waved around the empty room. “I made it. Nowheresville, U.S.A.”

“Fair enough.” Pete brought out the bar mop again and resumed his polishing.

“So, anyway. She left me. Wanted me to get a ‘real job,’ she said.” He shook his head and took a drink from his empty glass, wondering how the whiskey had disappeared because he certainly didn’t remember drinking it.

“The idea of working someplace steady, answering the same phone at the same desk in the same corner of the same building, day after day until I retire or drop dead of a heart attack — whichever comes first — I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Frank gave a long sigh.

“So she left.” Pete supplied as he poured another drink.

“Some guy down at the bank put a rock on her finger the size of the Empire State Building.” Frank shook his head. The wind outside howled the same way he had when he’d come home to find the so-long note she’d slipped under his door. “How was I supposed to give her that?”

“You seem like a guy who enjoys adventure, Frank.” Pete crossed his meaty arms and leaned against the shelf behind the bar. “Why tie yourself down to one girl? Nothing wrong with living a little.”


Lightning struck and an almost simultaneous boom rattled the bottles on the shelf. The lights flickered once and doused out. Frank’s heart skipped a beat or two before the pop and flare of a match brought him back.

“Nah. You’ve got plenty of time.” Pete lit candles around the bar, without breaking stride. The orange glow put his deep-set eyes in shadow, giving him an eerie countenance. “Go see the world. London! Paris! Who needs Poughkeepsie?”

“Yeah.” Frank nodded hard and the world kept moving up and down a few seconds even after he stopped. “Yeah!”

He slipped off the stool and had to grab onto the edge of the bar as the world tossed and turned around him.

“Easy there, Hoss.” Pete leaned over the bar, grabbing his arm. “No need to hurry off just yet. I got a couch in the back room, if ya wanna sleep it off.”

“No. Thanks.” Frank smashed his soggy Fedora back onto his head. “You said that hotel’s two miles up the road?”

“Left at the crossroads. Can’t miss it.”

“Okay then.” Frank tugged on his overcoat, steeling himself to make the dash through the pelting rain to his car. “I can make that. I’ll be fine.”


“Fine my ass.” Frank leaned forward and rubbed the edge of his coat sleeve on the windscreen. He made a little window in the fog that didn’t provide any help in the deluge. “May as well be driving in a waterfall.”

A glint of something caught his eye and he slammed on his brakes, skidding off the edge of the road and into a ditch. He came to a stop, a few inches from the bumper of a black Buick. Thinking of how close he’d come to turning himself into a pancake sobered him up in a jiffy.

A knock on the window made him jump.

He turned, all he could see was red.

Red dress. Red scarf. Red lips.

So much red.

He opened the door. Red shoved him across the seat and got in.

“Hey, thanks for stopping. Thought I was going to be stuck out here all night.”

He stared.

“You okay, mister?”

“Sure. Fine. You?”

“Cold and wet.”

“It’s raining.” It was all he could think of to say. His brain went all fuzzy.

She laughed, light and clear, showing her white teeth.

“Hey,” he squinted. He rubbed his eyes when everything blurred. It was like the mirror back at the bar. As soon as he blinked everything was completely normal.

“Wanna blow this pop stand? There’s a hotel up the road,” she said.

“Left at the crossroads.”

“Shall we?”

She scooted over, planting her supple ass in his lap as they swapped places. Feeling her hips against him woke things up that had been snoozing even before Sylvia left him. Red landed on the passenger end of the seat and he adjusted himself, thankful it was dark.

Frank pulled out and headed left at the sign.

“So what was wrong with your car?”

“Got a flat tire.”

“Bummer. I could have fixed it for you.”

“In this weather?”

“Well.…” Frank ran his hand through his thick hair, grateful in that moment that he hadn’t gone the way of his Pop yet and still had a full head.

“That’s what I thought.” Red grinned.

Frank grinned back. “Cats and dogs.”


“The rain. Like cats and dogs.” Frank shook his head. “Maybe I am a lightweight.”

“You stop for a drink at Pete’s?”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“You’re not the first to come through here drunk on Pete’s finest. Happens all the time.”

“Oh.” He followed the lights on the hill, a bright beacon in the dark and stormy night.

As he wound up the long drive, the rain cleared to a drizzle and the full moon swept out from behind a cloud casting the enormous hotel in a bright glow.

Constructed in a traditional Gothic style, the place was stacked with more layers than a wedding cake, complete with all the lacy accents along the edges. Even though it was old in style, it didn’t have the weathered look or feel of the bar he’d just been in. The paint job was as fresh as if it had been done yesterday, which was impossible in this sort of weather.

“Wow. This is some swanky place.”

“It’s famous in these parts.”


She shrugged. “Some say so.”

“What do you say?”

She winked.

Frank handed off the keys to a valet dressed in a fresh burgundy uniform, complete with gold-trimmed pillbox hat to match. He went around to open Red’s door but she was already out, waiting for him.

Frank headed through the enormous entryway, greeted by a concierge who took his one leather suitcase. The lobby floor was an intricate parquet design, no doubt hand-crafted and polished so slick it sparkled like glass. Tiffany lamps were placed around a waiting area, the emerald and sapphire glass of the shades casting a warm glow across the plum wing chairs.

A blonde at the desk put down her Nancy Drew and glanced up when he approached.

“Good evening, welcome to the Thornewood Hotel,” she said smoothly.

“Thank you. I’m going to need a room for the night.” He turned to ask Red if she was going to stay, or call for a tow.

But she’d vanished.

“Very good, sir.” The blonde squinted at him just a little before turning to open a cabinet. Hundreds of antique golden keys winked and sparkled at him as if they were inviting him to come stay in the corresponding rooms. “We have 217 available. King sized bed. Excellent view of the lake.”

Frank shrugged. “Sure. Sounds good.”

He turned and scanned the opulent lobby for any flash of Red, the lobby was vast, but open. Maybe she’d headed into the bar across the way for a nightcap. After spending so long stuck out in the awful weather, maybe she needed to warm up a little, calm her nerves.

Sure. That was it.


“Sorry.” Frank realized the woman had asked him a question. “What was that?”

“Will you be staying just the one night?”

“Yes.” He leaned in. “Did you see a pretty red-headed gal come in same time as me?”

The blonde pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows.

“No?” Frank patted the desk and handed over some cash for the room. “Okay then.”

“Have a good evening, sir. If you need anything, please feel free to call down.”

“Sure, thanks.”

Frank made his way up the wide, carpeted staircase at the far end of the lobby. A golden sign directed him to the right. Room 217 was about halfway down a long hall. Everything was quiet and completely pristine. It was late, but there were no shoes out to be polished. No service dishes. The only people he’d seen or heard were employees.

Frank fitted the antique key into the lock. He turned, but nothing happened. He jiggled the key and tried again. He checked to make sure he had the right room.


“I hate how these old doors stick when it rains.”

Frank jumped back, nearly tripping over the carpet and ramming himself into the wall.

“My apologies,” Red grinned. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“I thought you left.”

“I’ve been here the whole time, Frank.”

Frank’s hand trembled as he tried the key again. It opened easily this time. Red stepped in first. A cool draft whispered across his skin as he entered the room.

He flicked on the light and frowned a little. “Wait, how did you know my name?”

“You wrote it in the register.” She grinned and sank down on the bed, pulling off her scarf and shaking out her bright crimson curls in a wave over her pale white shoulders.

Frank stared.

“You’re staring, Frank.”

Frank shut his mouth. Then he stared at the open door, wondering if he should shut it. Wondering if that would be proper.

“Close the door. I won’t bite.” Red crossed her legs and leaned back on her elbows. “Unless you want me to.”

“What’s going on here? Are you some kind of—” He scrubbed his face, not wanting to risk offending her or scaring her away with his rudeness. “I’ve just never met anyone like you before. What’s your name?”


“That’s pretty.”

“Thank you.”

“I gotta tell you, Faye. It’s been a really long night. I got lost. I got a little drunk. I found you. I don’t know what this is or why you’re here laying on the bed, but I’m not one to kick a gift-horse in the mouth. Or however the saying goes. But I do need to know what’s what. You follow?”

“Sure.” She nodded, pressing those red lips together into a little moue. “I got lonely, and bored. I’ve been waiting there a long time for someone to come through and pick me up. You seem like a sweet guy, Frank. I’m glad you came along.”

Frank shrugged out of his overcoat. “Me too. I think.”

“You want to fool around or just talk?”

“Little of both?” he asked, filled with hope.

She beckoned to him with a hand that was smooth and white as fine china.

He went to her, crawled on the bed, and got a taste of those cherry bomb lips. She was cool and light, weighing almost nothing as they rolled and she landed on top of him. He unzipped her dress in the back, freeing her breasts.

Clothes landed in the floor.

Hands and lips landed everywhere else.

Sheets tangled.

The pressure that he’d felt with Sylvia was gone. Lifted from his shoulders was the burden of being in love. Faye was light and easy, all he had to do was make love.

They finished and Frank dug a cigarette out of his coat pocket. She waved him off when he offered one.

“Suit yourself.” He lit the cigarette and sat on the edge of the bed facing the big window. The moonlight spilled through the curtains, illuminating the tiny flowers on the fresh wallpaper.

She traced her finger in small swirls along his back. It sent a shiver of ice up his spine, but he didn’t complain. It felt so good to be touched. To be wanted.

“I’m glad I came along when I did,” he said quietly.

“Me too,” she murmured. “You’re one in a million, Frank.”


“No, really.” She propped her head up on her hand.

“Well, thanks.” He finished his cigarette and crawled back between the cool sheets.

She lay her head on his chest, and for the first time in ages, he fell asleep looking forward to the next day.


The harsh ring of the phone woke him. Frank rolled over in the bed and reached for it without opening his eyes.

“Yep,” he grumbled.


“Who’s this?” He scrubbed his face, holding the receiver away from his ear a little. The voice on the line was too loud. Or maybe it was just the splitting headache he had, making the world seem like it was against him.

“Pete here. Just wanted to check in and see if you made it up to the hotel all right. You were looking pretty rough when you headed out.”

“I made it. Thanks,” Frank said. He grinned remembering the night before. “Made a new friend, too.”


He opened his eyes to an empty bed. Empty room. Frank got up and brought the phone with him to check the bathroom. Empty.

“She’s gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

“Faye.” Frank shook his head and set the phone down a little harder on the desk than he intended. “I picked her up last night just before the crossroads. She had a flat tire. We got to talking and.…”

“Oh brother,” Pete said.

“What? She was a damsel in distress. I was happy to help.”

“Frank, tell me you didn’t fall for her.”

Something in his tone caused him to perk up. “Why shouldn’t I fall for her?”

“Hate to break it to you, Frank, whatever happened last night wasn’t real.”

Frank jolted up off the bed. “Of course it was real. You think I’d make something like that up? She said she was waiting a long time for me. She said I was one in a million.”

“I’ll bet she did.”

“What gives, Pete?” He broke out in a sweat that quickly chilled on his skin in the cool room, leaving him clammy.

“Let me guess, red hair, red dress, red lips?”

“How — how did you know that?” Frank blinked and sank slowly down onto the bed, the same way Faye had done last night. It felt as if a bolt of lightning from last night’s storm struck him directly in the chest.

“Faye Carmichael has been waiting on that road for twenty years,” Pete said. “Her car went off the road after she got a flat. It all happened on a dark and stormy night, just like last night. She tried to hail for help, but the guy driving didn’t see her in time to stop. She was going to meet her lover at the hotel. Never made it. Every few years she shows up again and gets some poor sucker to give her a ride. You look a lot like my brother, Joe. The guy she was going to meet. Guess she thought so too.”

Frank sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the tiny flowers on the faded, peeling wallpaper. He glanced around the drab room, and examined the tarnished brass key on the bedside table. His surroundings were all a little faded, a little worn, and a lot less exciting than they’d appeared the night before.

“Still there, buddy?”

“I’m here.”

“Listen, come on back to the bar. I’ll make you breakfast. I’ve got a great cure for a hangover. What do you say?”


“See you soon.”

Frank hung up the phone. He stared at the wallpaper some more, wondering how she could have felt so real. Sure, she’d suckered him into a ride. In more ways than one. But how had she noticed him? It had to be more than his looks.

Maybe she was just looking for another ghost.

Frank sighed and pulled on his pants. He yanked on his undershirt, wondering why the Big Guy Upstairs had to be such a jerk sometimes. He wondered if he was going crazy. He stared  at his face in the mirror, and noticed the smear of cherry bomb lipstick on his collar.

About the Author

SareyPic2Sarah L. Blair is quite proud to share a name with the Blair Witch, as she enjoys all things spooky and creeptastic. Halloween is her favorite holiday, and The X-Files is her favorite television show. Enjoying the macabre means writing books she wants to read, all of which happen to include some kind of paranormal or supernatural element. A vicious demon, Shifters, and even hexed Koalas get a nod in her adult Urban Fantasy, Darkness Shifting. Sarah earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee, and currently lives in Georgia with her husband, two children, and their chihuahua. An excerpt from her debut novel can be found online at and if you’d like to get in touch with Sarah, she’s usually lurking around Twitter @sarahlblair.


Welcome to day twenty of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #595!

Thornewood Hotel 595


Will Thornewood be your Forever Home?

Barely dead, almost dead, or owe death a favor? Perhaps the Thornewood Hotel is right for you! Boasting expansive facilities of the highest caliber, a 24hr wait staff that caters to your peculiarities, and a wide variety of leisure activities, Thornewood will no doubt fill that hole in your heart! (Or at least distract it for a while.)

Register Today!


After retirement, Ana Gloriana Flores took up a string of hobbies. She started small; first some stamp collecting, then sky diving, and a first aid class, swimming with sharks, and she even took a cruise to the Bahamas. But her husband soon died of cancer, which was very rude of him if you asked her, so Ana Gloriana Flores took up the hobby of retirement home hopping. Her children had their own lives without her, and damned if she would become a burden to anyone else.

That was why, on the fifteenth of October, a year after her husband’s death, fall leaves whipping in the wind, Ana Gloriana Flores brought her hatbox and her suitcases with matching flowered print to the Thornewood Hotel. She’d heard of them through Facebook, and before Nurse Brown of Golden Pines Retirement Community realized what had happened to her charge, Flores caught a bus to New England and signed up for a new place to live.

Ambling past the wrought iron gates, she fought to keep the chill from her bones. It was getting harder to do that now, to keep the cold and the stillness at bay, the quiet that threatened to suffocate, after her Arturo had gone to the heavens. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. The manicured gardens arched against the darkened sky, and somewhere in the distance something howled. It would rain soon.

Reaching the doors, Flores lifted the gargoyle knocker.

“You rang?”

She blinked. Dropped it. “Not yet, I haven’t.”


The doorknocker had the grace to look sheepish, though how it managed to do so without damaging the stone was beyond her. “Apologies. I must have gotten ahead of myself.”

When the howling grew louder, Flores shivered.

“Ahem, yes. Right. Here for the weekend, yeah?” said the knocker, frowning. “No point in you knocking, anyway.”

Before she had a chance to correct him, the large mahogany doors swung open to the lobby of the hotel. Flores rolled her suitcase past the checkered floors, high ceilings, ornate chandeliers, to the short line at the front desk. The last few hours had been agony for her joints; she could not wait any longer.

“How may I help you?” said the desk clerk in clipped tones, after the gentleman in front of her left.

“Flores. I have a reservation?”

His eyes darkened, fingers ghosting over the computer keyboard. “Ah, Madame Flores. Welcome to the Thornewood Hotel. It appears we are currently cleaning your suite. Would you like to wait in the lobby? Or perhaps the Hotel bar?”

“I will wait here,” she said, burrowing into Arturo’s jacket. She’d taken to wearing them. It smelled of cigarros and cologne, and reminded her of her younger years, when they’d risked too much and slept too little. The pockets were filled with odd ends and knickknacks.

The clerk’s eyes softened, and he snapped his fingers.

“This is Vladimir,” he said. A languid gentleman with golden eyes and ebony skin appeared next to her. His uniform was soft grey and his nametag read ‘concierge since 1926’. “He can fetch anything for you. Would you like a some soup? It’s very good.”

“I’m not hungry.”

The gentleman exchanged glances. “Perhaps a hot chocolate?”

Flores managed a nod and Vladimir vanished. A dark haired bellhop with khol rimmed eyes and no mouth to speak of picked up her bags and placed them on a cart. To her left, a small child folded himself into a couch near the elevator, and she walked to him.

“May I sit?”

The boy nodded.

“Here alone?” she asked. He shook his head, pointing to the end of the hall.

“I like to put milk out for the shadows,” he grinned. “They keep me company, and they don’t eat much.”

Flores nodded, dragging her eyes from down the hall. Something had moved in the darkness. “And is your mother here?”

The boy frowned. “Just my aunt. She doesn’t like for me to waste milk.”

“Is she friends with the shadows?” Flores blew into her hands, starting to lose feeling in her fingers. Cold gripped her tighter, and she forced a deep breath into her lungs.

“No,” he said, pouting.

“Then maybe she should be.”

“She doesn’t like me much,” said the boy. He tilted his head to the side. “Why are you so cold?”

Flores smiled, and handed the boy a cough drop from her pocket. “Can’t seem to get warm.”

A woman walked to them, her black eyes glittering with disdain and spiders crawling across her face and her hair. She took the boy’s hand and turned to Flores. “Going up?”

Flores shook her head, knowing she had no key to get anywhere. The woman would frown the whole way, her porcelain skin marred by her bad humor. Plus, the elevator looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. Was that blood oozing from the ceiling?

The doors closed and Flores made her way back to the lobby desk, her teeth chattering. The sky had darkened further, soft patters of rain hitting the roof. Her pocket vibrated, and Flores took out her cellphone. It was her daughter.


“Mija.” She smiled.

They would speak of recipes. They would speak of her daughter’s daughter, Flores’ only grandbaby. They would speak of platitudes and happenstance. They would not speak of Arturo. It had been a year, and still, they would not. He’d been a good father. After a few minutes of chatter, her daughter sighed.

“How’s the new place?”

“Dusty,” said Flores.

“You could always stay with me and-“

“No, baby,” she smiled. “I can’t.”

And that’s how the conversation went, and how it would always go. Since the death of her beloved, Ana Gloriana Flores could no longer look her daughter in the eye. She’d made a Faustian bargain in her pain, and would not burden her daughter with her troubles.

“Ma. Come on. We have the space. Michael just got us a new house with his job, and –“

The ice gripped closer to her heart.

“How’s the baby?”

Her daughter sighed into a frustrated growl.

“She makes me want to pull my hair apart and still I would do anything for her. Just yesterday she – “ Someone yelled in the background. Her daughter grunted. “Sorry ma, I gotta go, Mike’s calling, he’s gotten himself stuck on the roof putting up these decorations.”

“Go, go, baby. Take care of yourself.”

“We’ll see you for Thanksgiving?”

“Of course.” Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Love you!” her daughter said, and promptly hung up.

“I love you too, mija.”

Flores stared at her phone. Five in the evening.

She could feel it. She could feel the echo of a life she would no longer live. On the edge of the black hole that ripped the fabric of spacetime. Her granddaughter would grow to be a marvelous woman, and Ana would die. Outside, the skies darkened and flashed, thunder booming in the distance. In moments the rain shifted from to an all out gale. And Ana Gloriana Flores gripped tight onto her crucifix and set her chin. It was time.

With a creak that echoed across the hall and into the depths of the hotel, a thin slip of a person pushed open the doors of the lobby. Flores couldn’t see under the hood that covered their face even though the wind rushed across the room, but she knew. Another clap of thunder woke the staff into action, bellhops and maids rushing to close the doors and tend to the wet floor.

The hooded guest did not move from their spot, but lifted a skeleton hand and pointed. Ana squared her shoulders, ice gripping her heart, and made her way to the entrance.

In the eternal silence that followed, Ana tried not to think of the birthdays she would miss and the presents she would fail to give. Of the Christmases and Thanksgivings, with laughter and games, and her sons fighting over who had made the best empanaditas doces, and her daughter regaling them with stories. She did not think of the soccer games, and the dance recitals, and the future wedding of a granddaughter she’d only met once. She took a deep breath. Perhaps her last.

But the hooded figure only pulled down her cowl, revealing a dark skinned teenager with wild brown hair. She pulled a pink lollipop from her mouth and pointed it at Ana.

“You Flores?” She said in a whisper, soft as morning dawn.

Ana could only nod. The girl set her chin, cleared her throat, and promptly burst into a coughing fit. Ana reached into Arturo’s jacket and handed the girl a cough drop, telling the nearest bellhop to grab her a glass of water.

After a moment of quiet breathing, the girl winced. “Been arguing with my mum all day,” she whispered, gesturing to the storm outside. “Guess it makes sense to have lost my death voice. I’m okay now.”

“You have something for me?” Ana asked.

“Yes. Right,” the girl stood, rolling down her sleeves and pushing up her cowl to cover her face in shadow.


Thunder clapped again, the foundations of the hotel shaking in their place, the sound reverberating across their souls. No one in the lobby dared move.


“WHA-?” the girl cleared her throat. “I mean what?”

“How am I to repay this debt?” Ana said.

“Ah, um. Sorry,” she lifted her cowl. “I don’t know, I’ve forgotten the rest. Give me a second.” The girl pulled a crumbling scroll from her shadowed cloak, or perhaps her cloak that was made of shadows, and she read from it, muttering.

“Blah, blah, blah,- EXCHANGE FOR LUCK AND FORTUNE- blah, blah, blah, – A FAVOR TO THE MASTER OF ALL ETERNITY- blah blah, BINDING WITH BLOOD – blah blah, BOUND TO THE PLANE – “

She frowned.

“You owe Death a favor in exchange for your bargain for an extra day a year ago. It doesn’t say what kind of favor.” The girl scratched her head, and put the lollipop back in her mouth. “Only that you are bound to it and the place you make it. Um.”

Ana nodded, gripping her cellphone tight in her hands. “And is there something I can do for you?”

“Not really,” the girl said, shrugging. She looked out into the storm, shaking her head. “Master of all Eternity and all. Mum would know better. But I guess I should say thank you for the cough drop.”

Ana swallowed, the panic from a sudden scrap of hope crushing her chest.

“Will you take me to the other side?”

“Nah. The cough drop could work. And this plane is totally cool.” She looked down at the scroll. “It doesn’t say when you were supposed to give me the favor either. I can bend the order of events a little.”

“My debt to death is paid?”

“I’d say so.” She frowned. “Mum’s in a foul mood and I’m not going to interrupt her.”

For a moment, Ana could breathe.

“Ma’am. Your room is ready,” said the concierge, Vladimir, a golden key and a hot chocolate in his hands.

“Five-nine-five?” said Flores. That would be too high to take the stairs for eternity, and she’d have to get someone to clean that elevator, but she wouldn’t complain. Her stomach growled, and she turned to the girl. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Death grinned, her brilliant teeth shining white, a grimace that would have put echoes of horror in the hearts of men and crushed their hearts into dust. But to Ana Gloriana Flores, she bore a striking resemblance to her daughter.

“That sounds great! I’m famished.”

“I hear the soup is good.”

About the Author

debbie-oYou can find Debbie Oliveira on Twitter @debbiekolive.


Welcome to day nineteen of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s scare comes from the staff areas–places where guests are never supposed to go. Enjoy the employees only key…but beware!

Thornewood Hotel Staff Only


“Food and Drink Man.”

“Yes, sir.  You’ll be staying with us overnight?”  The desk clerk stood stiffly behind the high wooden desk, blond hair pulled back to the nape of her neck.  Her face looked pale in the light of the computer screen.  The lobby behind them was lit with splashes of color from the cut glass inlays of the entrance.  The light collected at the back of the lobby, the brass accents bouncing it back and forth with a large mirror so the alcove glowed.  But the check-in desk was dim.  She typed without looking away from Darryl, all but her face in shadow.  She did not return his grin.

“Yep.”  Darryl’s brow wrinkled, unused to having his charm ignored.  He leaned on the desk to read her nametag and strengthen the effect.  His suit coat fell open, revealing a tailored shirt stretched across his wide torso.  A glossy tie hung just short of his waistband, tacked in place by a flashy pin.  ”I’m meeting with your manager, Karen.”  His grin widened.  ”But my evening is free.”

“How will you be paying, Mr. Sanderson?”  the desk clerk ignored his lean towards her.  Darryl’s brow creases deepened.

“Platinum card.”

“Thank you, sir.”  The clerk looked away to run the card and write something on a ledger.  She raised her eyes back to Darryl and held out her hand.

“You’re registered, Mr. Sanderson.  The elevator is at the back of the lobby.”  Darryl reached to take her hand, but she slipped from his grasp.  He was left holding a heavy metal key with a brass tag engraved with “Thornewood Hotel” and a room number.

Darryl was starting to feel ridiculous.  The cold fish of a desk clerk wasn’t feeling it.  Still, he was going to be stuck in this old hotel all night.  He tried once more.

“And the evening?  What are my options?”

“There is dinner in the dining room, or you may order it in your room.  We don’t have a band tonight, so the bar won’t have dancing.”

“And you?  Are you an option for the evening?”

“I will be at the desk if you have any concerns about your room, Mr. Sanderson.”  The desk clerk’s face remained impassive.  ”But I think you’ll find our staff to be very attentive.  They will respond, should you need anything.  Or they’ll disappear into the woodwork if you wish to be left alone.”

Darryl frowned.  Alone was not the idea he had in mind.

“Is there anything else, Mr. Sanderson?”

“Pretty obviously not.”  Darryl grabbed his bag and marched towards the elevator, sneering.

God.  This place.  Someone needs to tell them decorating has moved on since Agatha Christie was a thing, he thought.

The elevator was a brass monstrosity with a ridiculously sized arrow sweeping across a dial of floors, perched above ornate doors.  A huge, gilded mirror was set to capture guests waiting for the elevator without showing them the lobby behind them.  The arrangement bathed the alcove in golden light.

Darryl seethed while he watched the arrow move, picturing the desk clerk smirking behind him.  He tallied up her lack of service in his head, imagining how he would, regrettably, express it to the manager during his meeting.  The clerk’s lack of response to his invitation would become unfriendly service and refusal to give him information on the hotel’s schedule and amenities.  Her direction to the elevators would be a curt dismissal.  He could make their food and beverage business shine, he would say, but it would be up to the manager to curtail the poor service, especially those who were the first interaction with guests.  By the time the arrow settled on L, a satisfied smile was spreading on his face.  He looked back, his eyes mean and directed towards the clerk on what was hopefully the last day of her job.  He couldn’t see her.  The desk area was dark, but he could tell it was empty.  He looked across the lobby, its walls and furniture indistinct.  Even the prisms of light were dim and seemed to waver as if shining on water.

She’s probably just standing there in the dark.  But the image of her staring at him, unseen, chilled him.  He entered the empty elevator as nonchalantly as he could.


The room was small, a feature Darryl had expected, but which disappointed nonetheless.  Thornewood Hotel did not suffer from his typical complaint of old hotels, who usually crowded their rooms with furniture as if cramped was a design style.  These furnishings were old and sparse.  Their dark wood blended in with the muddy colors of the bed and carpet.  The light from the bedside sconces and standup lamp was weak.  The light was brighter in the bathroom, but the dark tones absorbed it before it could venture into the room.

There were two choices for sitting, an upholstered chair and the tapestry bedspread.  Their placement didn’t matter, because there was no TV to watch.  They shared a table that was nearly a writing desk, pushed against the window on the far wall.  He rolled his bag next to a small dresser, pulled out his travel bag, and considered himself moved in.

He’d scout out the hotel and score some business expenses before his meeting with the manager.  Staying in that dreary room wasn’t an option.


“Goddamn crows, am I right?”  Darryl asked the bartender.  The man acknowledged Darryl’s comment, but did not respond.  Darryl stabbed another bite of steak.  Striking up conversation in this place was a thankless job.  He’d taken dinner in the mezzanine bar check out the food and beverage situation, but he hadn’t gotten past the server to get any details.  Darryl pushed on.

“Never had quite that entrance to a hotel before.  Crows flying all around, following me from the parking lot.  You guys have that problem much?”

“I haven’t heard that from other guests, no.”  The bartender moved behind the bar, setting things to order.  ”Was everything all right with your check-in?”

“Yeah,” Darryl sensed the bartender’s question was polite at best.  ”No problems there, except for the desk clerk.  She was the opposite of all right.”  Darryl watched the bartender for some response, but the man continued fiddling with glassware.

“Glad it went well for you.  And your meal?”

“Yeah, all good.” Darryl took a last bite.  ”Your cook makes a good steak.”  He gestured with his fork.  ”I’m in the business.  The plates and flatware are good, too.  You know how old they are?”

“I couldn’t say.  But the hotel has been in business for many years.”  The bartender stopped and addressed Darryl directly.  He no longer sounded distracted.  ”We keep the things that serve us best.”

Darryl nodded.  Another weirdo.


“Damn it, man!  You need to announce yourself!”  Darryl jerked back from the elevator panel to keep from touching the gaunt hand that was laying against it.  A short man stood stooped in the corner, his fingers splayed over the buttons.  He watched Darryl expectantly.

“Just push L.  Before I have to do it myself,” Darryl added, nastily.

The operator nodded and smiled.  His uniform of wine fabric and gold trim blended in with the carpet and brass.  Folds of skin hung below his eyes and jowls, gray in the yellow light.  His tarnished nametag read, “Kirby.”

What the hell.  There’s no way I’d force guests into an elevator with this repulsive, little man.

The operator stared vacantly at him as they rode.  Darryl grabbed his bag and bustled through the doors when they opened, ignoring the operator’s gesture of help.  The huge mirror stopped him, showing his startled face and the brass doors sliding shut.  Darryl was alone in the reflection while he pulled himself together.


“I think you can do better than this, Mr. Sanderson.  You can do better by the Thornewood Hotel, its guests, its staff.”

Darryl was at a loss.  The manager had barely looked at his presentation.  He smiled winningly.

“Ms. Ash.  May I call you Dee?”

“Our relationship is formal, Mr. Sanderson.”  Darryl dropped his smile.

“Ms. Ash,” he began again.  ”I know service is your game.  A place like this,” he lifted his hand towards the door, “service is the product you can sell to people.”  She tracked his movement.

“A place like this?”

“An older place.  Without the amenities that guests are used to.  I know you’re marketing to folks who find that quaint, or maybe even comforting.  Those are solid guests.  But you’re not going to get the business travelers or the corporate clients without adding some high-end style.  You have to make their stay luxurious.”

The manager watched Darryl with interest, even after he had stopped speaking.  She smiled mildly.

“I agree, Mr. Sanderson.  I would not have expressed it as you did, but I agree that we are here to provide service.  I pass this expectation on to my staff.  The guests have needs, and we are here to provide them.”  She looked toward the door, mimicking his gesture.  ”The hotel is meant to draw them in, and we who work here are meticulous in maintaining its allure.”  She glanced at the glossy brochures Darryl had before him, and then looked back into his eyes.

Darryl inhaled sharply, struck by her gaze. He struggled to compose himself.  Ms. Ash showed no sign that she noticed.  She leaned forward on the desk.

“I’ll repeat myself, Mr. Sanderson.  I believe you can do better by Thornewood Hotel.  We need a food and drink man, and you have much to offer.  However, you also have much to learn about truly meeting guests’ needs.  Something I value highly.  Shall we work together, towards our mutual benefit?”

Darryl stared into the Ms. Ash’s face, puzzling out her words.  Her stare was unsettling, a trick Darryl used himself to bully weaker hotel managers.  Her gaze felt that like that type of push, pressing him into agreeing while confusing bits flew around his brain.  He wanted to shake his head, to clear it, but he held steady.  Just power through it, he told himself.  Go with the idea that she’s going to buy.

“Sounds like we have a deal, Ms. Ash.”

“Yes,”  Ms. Ash leaned back to her straight posture, “it does.  We will meet again in the morning.”

“Will we?”  Darryl grinned, raising an eyebrow.  Bam!  There it is.  The deal’s almost in the bag.  The foreplay’s done; all that’s left is the big bang at the end.

Ms. Ash’s smile didn’t change, though she tilted her chin, obviously hearing him.  Darryl searched for amusement in her face, a slight crinkle around her eyes, but her expression remained inscrutable.

“I’m quite sure of it, Mr. Sanderson.  After you check out, of course.”

Darryl knew he was being dismissed.  This was usually the part where he stuck his hand out, grabbed the manager he had just nailed, and sealed the deal.  Instead, he stood up, unsure what to do.  Ms. Ash’s hands rested on the desk, folded and unmoving.  Perhaps a closing handshake was too informal.

“I’m looking forward to it.  We can talk specifics then.  I’ll pull together a price list tonight.”

“I’m sure everything will be in order.  That’s our way here at Thornewood.  Welcome to the hotel, Mr. Sanderson.”

Ms. Ash watched him as he stowed his papers and let himself out.  Even with the door closed behind him, he sensed her watching him, that inscrutable smile seeming less pleasant the longer she held it.


Darryl flicked on the stand up lamp and dropped into the upholstered chair.  A corona of light reached the edges of the chair and table, but the remainder of the room sat in gloom.  Lighting the lamps had made the rest of the room darker.

Even in the low light, he recognized the subtle changes from housekeeping.  His personal items had been arranged away from the edge on the table.  The pillows had been fluffed so they stood upright and full.  Darryl noted the upkeep with grudging approval, then returned to scowling at the vintage room.

“‘The guests have needs,’” he muttered to the room.  ”‘I think you can do better than this.’”  What a bitch.  Lady, if it’s service you want, I’m your man.  Darryl didn’t laugh at the joke.  He got up to grab his bag.  Ms. Ash’s prices just went up ten percent.  Maybe fifteen.

He pressed the switch for the bedside sconces.  The room became a little brighter, the light reaching around the bed.  He crossed to turn on the bathroom light, and the sconces flickered and went out.  Darryl made a disgusted sound.

“Crap electrical system,” he said to the lights.  ”Probably chewed by roaches in this ancient hotel.”  He stalked back to the bedside sconces and popped his hand against the back plate, hard.  The sconces flickered, then stayed lit.  Darryl glared at the lights to flicker again, then headed back to the chair.  The only full light was on the table under the lamp, so he spread them there.

“This lousy place,”  Darryl muttered.  ”You can be all prissy, say “we provide service,” but if you can’t see a goddamn thing in here, you’re never going to get business travelers.”  He spoke to the walls, to the ceiling, blaming them for his frustration.

They don’t know how bad they need me.  Darryl settled down to his papers.  He barely noticed when his eyes adjusted to the light, as he made notes on a package that would please the manager, or at least shut her up about him “doing better” by the hotel.  The light started to waver again.

Darryl glanced over at the sconces, expecting to see them flickering again.  Instead, shapes moved against the frosted glass covers.  For a horrified moment, Darryl imagined the roaches had come out of the walls and were crawling around in there.

The shapes grew darker, resolving as they moved closer to the glass.  Fingers slipped around one of the shades.  An arm followed.

The arm pushed out from the wall, extending nearly to a shoulder.  Its hand spread open and waved around, as if to grasp something.  Darryl’s mouth opened with it, and he hitched a breath in.

“What?  No, no…”  Darryl moaned.  A second arm pushed through on the other side of the sconce.  A bright white cloth hung from its fingers. The empty hand moved in unison with it, as if recognizing its mate.  They drew closer until they touched the top of the sconce.

The hands moved together, one swiping the cloth across the glass while the other held it steady. The sconce cover lifted slightly and the cloth was drug under its edge. With a small flourish, they finished dusting and the arms slid quickly into the wall.  A moment later, the arms slid out alongside the other light and repeated their dusting, this time moving right to the task.  Darryl’s eyes darted, following the brisk movements.  The only sounds were swishing and the clink of glass against metal, and then the arms slid noiselessly back into the wall.  Darryl stared at the spot where they disappeared.

“I’ll be damned,” Darryl said.  ”That was…,” then he broke off into giggles.  The image of the fluttering cloth and working fingers hit him again, and he squeezed his eyes shut.  ”That didn’t happen,” he said aloud, though his mind raced.

The arms had been gray.  That was true, right?  Gray, bodiless arms, jutting out from the wall and dusting my room, and… Titters burst out again, and he tried to catch his breath.  But where were the bodies?!  Darryl shrieked in his head, and then laughter took him fully, racking his body like sobs.  He leaned back, an arm laid across his eyes, struggling to get himself under control.

The shaking subsided a bit at a time.  Darryl wiped his streaming eyes.  Everything was quiet now that his laughter had died down.  The light glowed steadily around him.  The walls were unmarred on either side of the sconces.  That bothered him more than if he’d seen the arms waving there.  Now they were conspiring to freak him out.  Darryl’s fear boiled up into anger.

“A dirty trick, huh?”  He asked the room, angrily.  They probably had the place bugged; they were probably watching him now.  ”A dirty trick for a dirty hotel, that’s what I figure.  Can’t get decent housekeeping staff to clean up the room in time, so you had to do your tricks to try to clean up your mess after I had checked in.  Poor management, that’s what that is.  Poor management and crappy service.”  Darryl leaned back in the chair, yelling the last bit to the ceiling where he figured the camera or microphone was.

Two figures clung to the ceiling, their fingers and feet flat against the painted surface.  Black housekeeping uniforms hung down from their slender frames.  Their hair was pulled back into tight chignons.  Light flashed in their hidden eyes, and Darryl jumped.  They stared down at Darryl, then skittered across the ceiling and down the wall.

Darryl screamed.  He screamed as he jumped from the chair and tried to back away from the shadowy women, his arms out in front of him to ward them off.  He screamed through his stumbling fall onto the bed, and his scrambling to get upright again.  He screamed when the women leaned over him there, their arms open and reaching.  Darryl screamed until fabric was stuffed into his mouth, and he was silenced.

The housekeeping staff stripped the bed and gathered the linens together.  They split up so one could pull the pillowcases while the other grabbed the towels from the bathroom.  They bundled Darryl up with them, swaddling him.  They wound the sheets tight, until he stopped twitching.  Then they hefted the heavy bundle together, sharing the armful, and carried it from the room.

The hotel had modernized in ways that most guests did not notice.  The industrial sized washers on each floor allowed them to flip rooms much more efficiently.  The machines were large enough to fit a roomful of linens, and they could handle some unbalanced thumping.  The scalding water got out any stains a guest may leave, even blood.


“To begin, Mr. Sanderson: I understand your room did not meet your expectations, and housekeeping was called.  I suspect their quick response may have opened your eyes to how seriously we take such comments.  We value the guest experience here at Thornewood Hotel quite highly.”

Darryl jerked at the sound of the manager’s voice and opened his eyes.  The room swung around him, and he squeezed them shut immediately.  He felt for the arms of the chair where he was slumped, gripping them to keep steady as he struggled to sit up.

“Mr. Sanderson.”

Darryl nodded his head, a mute acknowledgement.  The room had stopped pitching around him.  He opened his eyes slowly and slowly raised his head.  Ms. Ash sat straight-backed in her chair, watching him with her hands folded on the desk.  For a moment, he thought he had nodded off during his meeting, before he was dismissed, before the night in his room.

A drip of water slid down his neck and soaked into his damp collar.  His hair was wet and combed.  He wore a freshly pressed shirt with more starch that he preferred.  Darryl slid his hands over the shirtfront, stopping at the stitching on the breast.  Elegant letters, T and H, curled around each other.

“In our last meeting, Mr. Sanderson,” Ms. Ash’s tone was of one pressing through, despite an interruption.  Darryl didn’t look up.  He slid his hand into the unfamiliar pants pocket, pulling out the object he felt there.  ”I said I thought you could do better by the hotel.  Do you remember?”


“Good.  That is why I agreed to our deal.  I still believe this, Mr. Sanderson.  The Thornewood Hotel and her guests need a good Food and Drink man.”

“But I’m not…I don’t work for the hotel.”  Darryl tried to sound put out.  He would have liked to stand up to emphasize his point, but the room threatened to spin when he leaned forward.  He grabbed the chair arms again and stared at the manager.

“Of course not, Mr. Sanderson.  You work for the guests, as we all do.”  Ms. Ash leaned back in her chair, her hands coming together to tent over her chest.  ”Service, Mr. Sanderson.  That is why you are here.  Your many years on the road have taught you things that will be valuable to the hotel.  I appreciate how experience shapes a person.  And now you are here to put that into practice to serve.”

“I don’t serve you, bitch.  I don’t serve anyone.”

“That’s a poor way to begin your time here, Mr. Sanderson.”

“I’m going back to my room.”  Darryl stood up abruptly.  ”Changing into my own damn clothes.” the room threatened to sway, and he grabbed the chair back.  ”And getting the hell out of here.”  He gestured with the heavy metal key in his fist, pointing it at the manager.

Ms. Ash smiled at Darryl, her eyes crinkling at the edges in a way he had not seen before.  She looked pleased.

Darryl stalked across the office, working to keep his swimming head clear, intent on throwing open the door to the hallway.  But the wall was blank.  A landscape painting of the hotel, the field around it the muddy green of early fall, hung  in place of the doorway.  Darryl looked side to side, his chest tight.  He could feel the satisfied smile of Ms. Ash at his back.

The doorway stood further down the wall than he remembered, almost too close to the corner to go out to the hallway, but he walked to it anyway.  The handle looked weathered, as if years of use had worn down the finish.  The door had a brass keyhole now.  Darryl stared down at the key, heavy in his hand.  The brass tag hung from his palm: Employees Only.

“I agree.  Best to begin, Mr. Sanderson.”


About the Author


Victoria Nations grew up wading through swamps and visiting torn-up hotels that her father refurbished. The dangling light fixtures and torn wallpaper were as mysterious as the deep woods. It was odd how sound carried through them, especially the shuffling footsteps that stopped just a moment after hearing them. She owns more Halloween decorations than for any other holiday.

She lives in Florida with her wife and son, who indulge her love of monsters.




Welcome to day EIGHTEEN of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s scare comes from room #213!



“We’ll be there by two tomorrow. Keep a tab at the bar, I’ll pay for your drinks when we get there,” Mark was way too chipper considering he had just called to say he was abandoning Jack.

“You’ll have to pay for my cable bill too. I plan on watching movies all night,” Jack Bryant said gruffly into the receiver.

“Uhhh… I don’t think the Thornewood has TV’s.” Mark sounded like he was glad he was over two hundred miles away. “Sorry, Jack.”

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Jack grumbled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jack hung up the phone disgusted. It had been Mark’s idea to go to the Thornewood for the weekend. For the past five years, Jack, Mark, and Ken had gone away. It was a weekend away from the wives. It usually consisted of some golf, gambling, and a shitload of drinking. They typically went to a city to escape the suburbs. But Mark who was a history buff thought the Thornewood would be the perfect setting for their weekend of leisure.

“It’s old and filled with rich stories. It’s like time stopped. The girls would never want to spend the weekend there. They even allow smoking in the lounge. We can puff on cigars and no one will bitch about it.” Mark’s persuasion had worked, for here Jack was checked into his room in the historic hotel, but his friends were at a motel over three hours away due to car trouble. Looking around he noticed immediately that Mark was right. “No fucking TV… well that’s just perfect.” He hadn’t even brought a book with him, and the wi-fi was terrible so he couldn’t surf the net.

“This blows,” Jack said as he stretched and wandered over to the window to check out the view. He had to admit as his gaze swam over the ivy that climbed the gate and the rich autumn leaves that painted the floor, the grounds to the hotel were incredible. Mark had been right about that much. Figuring he might as well explore the old building, he stuffed his room key into his pocket and left his room. He could have taken the stairs, he had taken them earlier to get in some exercise so Diana, his wife, wouldn’t complain that “he hadn’t gotten any steps in” over the boys weekend. The stairs, like everything else in this hotel, was a rickety mess.

The doors to the elevator chimed open and Mark was disappointed to see how tight the space was. Geez, if the guys were in here we’d be stuffed like sardines… He fidgeted with his hair in the ornate mirror that lined the walls of the elevator to offer the illusion of more space, frowning as he found a few more grey hairs had sprouted by his temple. He’d be forty next month. Forty. The word sounded unbelievable. When did he get so old? What happened to the twenty-year-old who’s idea of a good time was going out all night, meeting girls, and dancing in clubs? Now he volunteered to spend a weekend puffing on cigars in an ancient hotel. Fuck.

The elevator doors chimed as they opened and Jack stepped into the lobby. It was empty, which didn’t surprise him. Thornewood was in the middle of nowhere. No one stayed here unless they were driving through or like Mark, were a sucker for old buildings. The place even smelled old, like his grandmother’s trunk where she kept her wedding gown from the forties. Placing his hands into his pockets, he decided to explore, or at least find the lounge. There was a sign that pointed to a lower level and a promise of alcohol. A maid was watering some ferns by the stairs and Jack pointed to the sign, “The bar is downstairs?”

The maid nodded, then made a face of disapproval. Jack didn’t blame her. It was a little past noon. But he had nothing else to do in this prison. Jogging down the crimson carpeted steps, he nearly fumbled when he stepped on something hard. Bending down, he discovered it was a key. Not unlike his own.

“Room two-thirteen,” he said to no one in particular and turned around to head back up the stairs to return the key to the concierge desk. The guy at the desk had made a big stink about the keys when he had checked in. “Sir, this hotel was founded in the 1800s. All of the keys are the original. Aside from the master key, which the maids have, there are no copies, do you understand? If you lose your key you will be heavily fined. I cannot stress this enough.”

“Don’t lose the key, I got it,” Jack had said as the concierge looked at him doubtfully. The same guy was behind the desk now, running his fingers over his mustache to smooth it out. “Hello again, Mr. Bryant. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, I found this key on the stairs that lead to the lounge. I know you said there weren’t copies. Figured if I returned it, whoever has the room won’t get a fine.”

The concierge turned the key over in his hand, “Two-thirteen,” he said, the left side of his mouth curling up. “Ahh yes. This room belongs to Miss Grace. I am sure she will be delighted to having had it returned.”

Jack tapped twice on the desk. “Wonderful.” He looked around not sure if he should even bother to ask his question.

“Is there any way I can be of further service to you Mr. Bryant?”

“Uh… there isn’t any itinerary for the weekend or anything is there?” It was a long shot, but since he was alone, one worth asking.

“Itinerary? No sir. Most of our guests come here to get away from the modern world.” That was pretty much the answer Jack had expected, so feeling heavier than before, he headed back to the lounge.

If he found his room depressing, the lounge was worse. It was dim, the wallpaper was peeling and the bartender looked like he wanted to be anywhere but down in the dungeon pouring drinks from bottles that looked dusty at best. They didn’t even have beer. It was all hard alcohol. Gin, bourbon, and whiskey.

Jack ordered a gimlet, contemplating if he should even stay the night. With the guys over three hours away it made more sense to just go home and get his money back for the room. This weekend was supposed to be relaxing, not aggravating.

“Excuse me, are you Jack Bryant?”

Jack turned to find a vision of loveliness standing next to him. The woman looked around twenty-seven, with short dark hair that was curled and pinned up in an old fashioned style. She had a straight dress on that fell to her knee, which was embroidered with tiny beads. She looked like she had stepped out of the last century, which made her all the more alluring. Her lips were painted in a cherry red and her eyes were outlined in charcoal, which enhanced their green color.

“Uh, yes. Yes, I am.” Jack spurted out, feeling like a slob in his jeans and tee shirt.

“Perfect. My name is Marilyn Grace, you found my room key.”

“Oh! Yes, it was over on the stairs, I nearly tripped over the damn thing.” Jack winced at the harshness of his words, fearing he sounded like an ass.

“My apologies. I was just hoping to thank you.”

“No need.” He shrugged. “Anyone would have done the same.”

“Perhaps, but you did save me that fine. Could I offer you another drink as a thank you?”

“That’s not really necessary,” Jack said holding up his hand to reveal his wedding band. He knew she didn’t mean anything by it, but he was after all, a married man, and even without Diana watching he would honor her as his vows promised.

“I can assure you, your virtue is safe with me. Sam,” she called to the bartender. “Another drink for the hero, and I’ll have a dirty martini, extra gin, extra olives.”

“Coming right up, Miss Grace,” Sam said, his disposition brightening.

Marilyn sat on the stool beside Jack. “So, what brings you to the Thornewood?”

Jack found himself speaking very candidly around the young beauty. It had been so long since a woman looked at him with such intent, he almost forgot about his real life. His wife, his three children, and the office job he had that sucked more of his life away everyday. It was no wonder he was sprouting grey hairs. He told her all about Ken and Mark. How the three of them  had this tradition every year, but unfortunately this year the other men had run into some car trouble.

“Your friends sound like gems, I’d very much like to meet them.” She sipped delicately from the martini glass looking like the poster girl of a 1920’s socialite.

“I was thinking about just calling them and telling them to forget the weekend. By the time they get here it’ll be half over.” He looked around the room, “Not like there’s anything to do here anyway.”

“Nonsense! Come back with me to my room!” Marilyn said, eyes wide at the thought. Again Jack felt guilty. No, going back to her room would be the worst case scenario. She was too young, too beautiful. And he was too married.

“I… uhh..” He laughed. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“Oh!” She popped her fingers against her lips to stifle a giggle. “That sounded rather inappropriate. No, I meant, I’m having a bit of a get together with some old friends. You really should come.”

“Oh,” Jack rubbed his hand along the back of his neck feeling foolish. He was at least twelve years older than this girl, if not more. How embarrassing for him to think she was implying anything other than helping him pass the time. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, please come. My friends love meeting new people. And you must admit it sounds far more exciting than watching the wall paper peel off of the bar wall.”

Jack laughed. She had him there. “All right. I’ll come for one drink.”

“You’ll stay for more, I’m sure.” She winked and again Jack felt like she wanted something more from him. But looking down at his slight beer belly he knew the thought was preposterous. “Sam, just put these on my tab.” She gestured to the empty glasses.

“No, it’s really fine, I can pay.”

“Nonsense. You found my key, without it I would have been locked out for an eternity.” He liked the way she spoke, even if it was a tad dramatic. When his wife spoke to him she was usually giving him a chore to do and looking at him with an expression that read, I gave my best years to you, and for what?

Marilyn seemed like the type of girl that was always happy, and he found her disposition refreshing. This hotel could use happy.

“Here we are! Good ol’ two-thirteen,” she said a few minutes later as she slipped the key into the lock and turned the knob. She stepped to the side allowing for Jack to enter first and with a click, locked the door behind them. “Everyone! I’m back! I have a new friend, his name is Jack,” she called as the two of them walked down the narrow hallway which opened up into a larger room. Jack surveyed the room and let out a long low whistle. He expected a small room like his. Bed, dresser, nightstand… typical hotel room. This was anything but typical.

“Is this a suite?” Jack asked as he saw her one room spilled into several. A living room, a dining area, a large bathroom, and of course a bedroom.

“It’s just a room,” she said plainly, blinking her doe eyes at him. “Come,” she beckoned him forward with her hand, “I want you to meet my friends.”

“Just a room,” Jack grumbled. “More like, just an apartment…”

Marilyn walked him over to the couch where a couple was seated having cocktails. The woman was in similar attire as Marilyn, but with a grand feather in her hair that swayed when she turned her head. The man was in a tuxedo, and Jack felt all the more awkward in his casual clothes.

“Katherine, Glen… this is Jack. He found my room key!”

Glen stood up to shake Jack’s hand. “How wonderful! Welcome aboard. Can I get you a drink?”

“Uhh… sure.”

“Bourbon or Gin?” Glen asked looking like pouring a drink might very well be the highlight of his whole day.

“Gin,” Jack replied wishing someone in this blasted hotel had a beer.

“Jack!” Katherine said gleefully, leaning forward and casually resting her wrists on her knee. “Where ever did you find the key?”

“On the stairs to the lounge. It sort of found me. I tripped over it. Thank you,” he said as Glen handed him his drink.

“Oh how marvelous!” Katherine clapped her hands together and Jack felt his brows furrow at her enthusiasm. Katherine was beaming and he assumed the found key must be the most sensational news she had ever heard. Well, at least he’d have a story to tell the guys when they finally met up. These people were different to say the least.

“Jack? Do you play cards?” Glen asked.

“Yes.” Jack took a sip of his drink. “I’m a poker man.”

“How grand! Let’s play a few hands, shall we?”

Grand? Marvelous? Jack was confused by the way these people spoke… and their outfits. He wasn’t sure if it was a costume party, although with only four in attendance, he didn’t know if party was the right word. But still he agreed and they all headed to the table to play a few hands.

They played for money, and the more hands Jack won the more he didn’t mind being underdressed at the bizarre gathering. In between rounds the girls would turn on music from an old fashioned phonograph and take turns dancing with both men. Jack wasn’t much of a dancer when it came to the old music the girls played. He was used to the music of his youth, but the girls were very patient and he even learned a step or two that he contemplated showing to Diana when he returned. It was all rather innocent, and as the afternoon faded into the evening, Jack admitted to himself, he was having fun.

With every game a fresh round of drinks were poured, and Jack was surprised by how well everyone handled their liquor. They all seemed completely coherent. Jack on the other hand was starting to feel bleary eyed.

“I think I better go back to my room. I’ve had too much to drink, and don’t want to make a fool of myself.”

“Nonsense! If you’re tired, you can sleep in my bed,” Marilyn offered. The thought of sleeping in another woman’s bed was a sobering thought.

“No… no… I should go. I can crash early and my friends will be here in the morning.  What time is it anyway?”

“It’s only nine,” Marilyn said with a twinge of panic in her voice. “Perhaps you just need to eat. Why we haven’t had a thing to nibble on other than olives and limes!” She laughed lightly, and her friends chimed in with smiles and nods of agreement. “I’ll order room service. What would you like, Jack?”

“Marilyn, I do appreciate your hospitality, but what I would like is to return to my room. I’m really not feeling very well.”

He got up to leave, but Marilyn leapt in front of him. “You simply cannot go Jack. Not until Midnight.” Her voice was firm, her eyes filled with conviction.

“Midnight? What are you talking about? I’m going to crash the minute my head hits the pillow. Plus, I left my phone in my room. I’m sure my wife is worried since I haven’t checked in all day.” Jack turned and exited the room, but Glen caught his arm as he was walking down the hallway toward the door.

“She’s right. You can’t go, Jack.” His gaze was severe, his hand holding on to Jack’s arm a bit tighter than was necessary.

“I would advise you to let go of me,” Jack said through gritted teeth, no longer charmed by these people. “I’ve had a lot to drink, but I can still pack a punch.” He shrugged Glen’s hand away and headed rapidly for the door.

“Jack. If you leave before midnight you’ll ruin everything. Time needs to sort itself out,” Katherine called out.

“Time? What are you babbling about?”

“Jack, she’s right.” Marilyn stepped closer, her eyes filled with dread. “It’s the modern world out there, but in this room it’s 1928.”

“You’re all insane. I should have known from your costumes—“

“Listen to me!” Marilyn pleaded. “I checked into this hotel in 1928, and I lost my key…”

“And eighty something years later I found it, how convenient for me. I’ve had enough.”

Tears were streaming down her face now. “Jack, you have to listen. I lost my key, and I had to pay a fine.” She gestured to the room. “This has been my fine. A life of imprisonment for me and my friends— but you can unlock us, Jack. All you need to do is stay until midnight.”

“Let me guess, at midnight, I turn into a pumpkin.” Jack pushed the hysterical girl out of his way, and grabbed the knob of the door.

“I don’t know how it works, all I know is what the concierge told me when he returned the key to me this afternoon.” She took a breath, her body trembling. “In order to be released you had to stay with us until midnight. It’s only three hours more. Surely you can do that, for us?”

Jack looked at the three strangers. He was a man of reason, and despised games. He should have left the moment he got the call from Mark. “Good night, Marilyn.” Pulling the door open, Jack stepped out into the hallway and headed toward the elevator, relieved he had not told her his own room number. With seven stories, they’d have a hard time finding him.

He was feeling stranger by the minute, and it wasn’t his usual waves of nausea from too much drinking. It was exhaustion, and aches in parts of his body he didn’t know existed. Even walking seemed to knock the wind out of him. Upon reaching the elevator, Jack pressed the button and was startled when he saw how wrinkled and covered with liver spots his hand had become. He studied it for a moment, raising both hands to meet his gaze, shaking as he did so.

The door to the elevator chimed open the mirror revealing an old man looking back. His hair was sparse, and the few strands he had left were a wiry white. He was thin, his jowls were wrinkled and drooped. The lines around his eyes revealing a map of his life. “What… what…” Jack couldn’t get the words out, even his voice was unrecognizable. He stepped inside the elevator getting a closer look at himself in the reflection.

“Jack!” Marilyn cried, tears streaming down her face, “Damn you! Damn you to hell!” In that moment Jack felt a sharp pain in his heart as the past eighty-eight years of Marilyn’s crime caught up to him. He was aging faster than his body could withstand, and with one final breath, he collapsed on the elevator floor.

Marilyn clutched at the wall of the elevator. Her mind racing with all that had transpired. The key to her room had disappeared the moment Jack had stepped out into the hallway, hidden somewhere in plain view for some other fool to discover. She looked down at Jack’s crumpled body, and shook her head. She had hope for this one, she should have known a married man would have been harder to convince. But she didn’t choose him, the key did.

Wiping away her tears of complete disappointment, she bent down and rummaged through Jack’s pockets until she found his room key. Pressing the button for the lobby she quickly stepped out before the doors shut. She watched as the numbers revealed the elevator’s descent. The concierge would find the body. One of many she had sent to him over the years.

Marilyn jingled his key in her hand as she walked with a heavy heart back to her prison. She counted in her head how many keys she had collected over the years. The souvenirs of those who had failed her— and themselves.

There were six hundred and sixty-six rooms in the hotel. Each patron that checked in offered her another opportunity to escape. Upon reaching her cell, she knocked on the door of room two-thirteen, taking a shaky breath as she waited for her friends to let her back in. Marilyn Grace turned Jack’s rusty key over in her palm, wondering how many more fines would be collected at the hotel Thornewood.

About the Author

kat-daemonKat Daemon grew up in New York where her imagination always seemed to get the best of her. When she’s not hanging with demons, she’s usually armed with a strong cup of coffee and dreaming up her next tormented character.




Welcome to day seventeen of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s scare comes from room #317!

Thornewood Hotel 317


My entire life, all twenty-three years, have lead to tomorrow.

The day my life begins.

I glance at my phone as it vibrates in my hand, the screen bright with a call. I tighten my grip, resisting the urge to throw my cell across the parking lot. “Give it up, Mom.” I drag my suitcase out of the backseat and slam the door.

The wheels of my bag grumble over the pavement; leaves crunch under my feet. My phone goes dark. Maybe that will be the last time she’ll try. Maybe she’ll believe that her tattered lecture won’t work. I pass under the yellow light of a lamp, the world beyond fading behind the curtain of brightness.

Like a spotlight. My spotlight. The one I deserve.

A breeze kicks brown, withered leaves around my feet and brings whispers to my ears. Sounds of conversation, as if a crowd has gathered around me, creep along the ground, a low murmur I can’t understand. I squint into the dark, where blurred forms appear.


The voices quiet. The light flickers, threatening to offer me to the night.

It’s her.

The words rise into existence, gripping me with exhilaration. They know me. I straighten, ready to be worshipped. The wind roars…or is that applause?

It’s her.

I jump as my phone buzzes from within my clenched fingers.

“Shit.” I glance at the device, my mind working to comprehend the words on the glowing screen.

Not Mom?

Not Mom.

In a daze, I slide my thumb over the phone and place it by my ear as I search for signs of people around me. “Hello. Uncle Vic?”

“Violet called me. My dear sister is…upset.” The hidden laugh in my uncle’s serious tone comforts me.

The night fades to normal. The strange whispers gone, the dark forms lingering only in a memory. But I can’t live in memories and pretend spotlights, so I continue, my suitcase bumping over the uneven lot. “Mom is definitely upset. What did she say?”

“Only that you left, and she couldn’t make you see reason. She was a little hysterical.”

“I might have yelled at her.” Only there was no “might have”. I screamed at her. I focused all my rage at Mom, shrieking that I’d never be like her, a failure.

“She doesn’t think you can handle living in New York City on your own.”

“I know.”

“But you can.”

“I will.”

“How is the city? As fabulous as always?”

“I’m…” I stop, staring at the hotel looming at the edge of the parking lot, stone walls rising into the sky. “I’m not in the city. I stopped at this hotel, somewhere in Connecticut, I think. I was tired…”

Why had I stopped? Why not continue to New York? I glance back at the parking lot. A few cars sit scattered under curved lamps, and, beyond, the highway waits to take me to my destination. Almost there, but…

“There was a sign for this Thornewood Hotel and it…”

It what? Called to me?

Maybe I should keep going. Headlights shine in the distance, tiny beacons of promise, but the roar of engines turns to static then dies. Speeding SUVs and semi-trucks disappear, replaced by a line of trees, an unmoving wall. Jagged branches scratch at the black of night.

I face the grand building, the lights on the ground floor bright, welcoming.

“Oh, never mind,” I say. “I can get up tomorrow, and make it to all my appointments from here.”

“It is late,” Uncle Vic says, his voice high with excitement. “You should get a good night’s sleep to be ready for your big day. I’m so happy for you. You’re going to do great. I can feel it.”

“Thanks,” I say. “This is all because of you. You showed me the city and the inspiration that exists there.”

“Call me tomorrow and tell me everything.”

“I will. Bye, Uncle Vic, and thanks again.”

A smile creeps through me as I end the call and step onto the walkway leading to the hotel entrance. Uncle Vic took me on trips to New York City, visiting all the art galleries and museums, a world of true inspiration. Crowds of people, moving as one. Separate, yet connected. Captivating. The atmosphere of that grand city seeped into every piece of my art, every drawing, painting, and sculpture. The frantic life transforms into shape and color on my canvases.

No matter what Mom says. I have to live there with the crowds. The people. Their blood pumping, fueling their fast-paced lives. Tomorrow, I will begin that life, but tonight the Thornewood Hotel will do. Its grandeur fit for this special occasion, of my entry into the world of art. Someday, everyone will know me. Admire me. Worship what I can create.

My chest swells. I throw my shoulders back and hold my head high. I was meant for greatness. Uncle Vic knows.

Warm light slides across the ground from magnificent arched windows. A spot of bright in the dark, the moon and stars erased by the gloom of clouds. Cold creeps through the air as fog settles in for the night. I grab my jacket, holding it close as the chill caresses my neck. Over the entrance, the striped awning flaps.

Leaves scratch their dry fingers on the walk behind me, like strange applause for me.

I cross the last feet of stone to the oversized wooden double doors, which open into a spacious lobby, all rich browns and reds with touches of gold. The faint scent of perfume, as if many people had just passed through, lingers in the air. An underlying odor of age, of decay, lurks at the edge of my senses, then dissipates. My shoes squeak on the marble floor, where light and dark shapes creating a chaotic pattern. Awe spreads through my body in waves of delight. I have walked into another world, one of ladies and gentlemen, of glamorous balls and lace-covered dresses. A glittering gold chandelier hangs in the center, blood red jewels dangle from the curling arms. Dark wood paneling lines the walls, and golden sconces leave smears of brightness. Twin curving staircases frame the check-in desk at the back of the room under a balcony edged by an iron railing of spiraling vines and leaves. No one stands behind the counter, but I suspect a shiny bell waits for my hand.

My rolling case hums across the floor as I take in every detail, every touch of color and texture. On my left, a trio of archways lead into a room full of chairs. Voices echo, and I stop, my shoe making one last squeal before silence closes its fist.

I turn my head, the air heavy, my thoughts blurred. On the opposite side, a mirror image of three arches, only these lead to a pristine white room. People in fancy dress stand, whispering, gazing at the walls…walls covered in paintings and drawings. Art.

My art.

My show.

Excitement bursts inside of me. The day I’ve longed for, worked for.

The crowd turns. One by one, they stare at me.

I stand up straight, running my hand along my side, smoothing my Supernatural T-shirt, the white pentagram stark against the black fabric.

One by one, they raise their arms. Index fingers point.

It’s her.

I gaze at my clothes, horrified as I brush potato chip crumbs from my yoga pants, then lift my chin. What I wear doesn’t matter. Only my art matters. I run my fingers through my hair, red like the color splattered across the canvases the people admire.

It’s her.

I take a step. Yes, it’s me.

Their smiles fade to grimaces. I stop, my heart skipping, an unknown rhythm of fear encroaching on my confidence. Their whispers turn to harsh laughter, deep circles form under their eyes and their skin pales. Fingers curl, becoming claws. Expensive suits fade and shred, ties hanging on by threads. With a collective roar, they run to the walls, hands grabbing canvas and closing on frames. My work rips and cracks, falling to the floor in pieces. Sculptures smash, their dying gasps swallowed by the inhuman screams of the destroyers.

My art.

“No.” Rage blurs my vision. I let go of my bag and press my hands to my eyes, as if to tear the scene from my sight. They don’t know what they’re doing. They have to be stopped. With a shriek, I drop my arms, my chest heaving with anger.

But the white room is gone, instead, a dining room sits in shadow. Empty chairs with ornate backs. Tables covered with striped cloths.

Not a gallery. The Thornewood Hotel.

A hallucination?

I adjust my shirt and swipe hair out of my face.

My paintings and sculptures rest safe in my trunk. A chuckle plays in my throat. My work is perfect. No one would dare laugh at me. No one would dare destroy it.

I close my eyes and dismiss the strange visions from a mind desperate for sleep.

Room 317 is ready for you, Miss. Have a pleasant stay at the Thornewood Hotel.

The calm words tug my mind free of the fog of anger and confusion, and I open my eyes. The check-in desk is cool and smooth under my hand. Wrinkled, icy fingers press a long, metal key into my palm, the number 317, worn but clear, stamped on the attached tag.

I look over my shoulder. Hadn’t I been standing in the middle of the room? “How did I get here?”

Please sign in.

The sand-coated whisper hangs, like a smoky secret. I return my gaze to the counter as a massive leather bound book slides towards me. The cover opens to a blank page, stained by time. An old fashioned ink pen rolls to a stop in the center.

“Sure,” I say as I take the pen in my fingers. Ink drops from the tip—red ink—and splatters to the paper. I set the implement on the page and begin to write, then stop, confused at the line, the betrayal of my hand. “Strange. I was going to use my given first name, but…”

Why would I use that name, my true first name, the one that had made me the butt of every joke in school?

“That’s not me.”

Why not?

The urge to see the curve of the letters written in red strikes, but I hold back. “No. It’s not me.”

It’s her.

I exhale, gathering my wits. And with a flourish sign, Ivy Claye, the name that adorns all my work. Perfect.

The letters shift, bending and twisting as if wanting to be something else. I slam the book closed. The air, like thick liquid, clogs my throat. I can’t breathe.

Elevators are at the top of the stairs.

I stare at the key. The weight lifts from my lungs, but uneasiness invades my thoughts.

Why would they attack my art?

A ding sounds. I look up as the smooth metal doors open. I walk into the gaping mouth and turn to face the stairs, stairs I don’t remember climbing. Hadn’t I been at the desk? Talking to…the clerk, though I don’t remember him, only words. The doors shut with a click. The third floor button lights when I press it, then dims, as if uncertain of the journey. I hit it again with force, and the ascent begins. Swaying with the movement, I stare at my hands, picking a bit of paint from my skin. Red paint.

New York is tough. Are you sure you can handle it? You sure you’re good enough? Something seems to be missing from your work, don’t you think?

“Look! I’ve had enough of my mother telling me that!” I whip my head around ready to punch whoever dares speak to me that way. “I don’t need a stranger…”

Only no one is there.

My heated emotions bounce around the enclosed space, my words like weapons, ready to hurt. No one should doubt me. No one should question me. I swallow, the sound ripe with uncertainty.

The elevator jerks to a stop. I grab my suitcase for support.

A cheerful ding, and the doors part.

A wood paneled wall, dark and imposing, greets me. So odd. So quiet. So empty. Yet the place teems with voices and visions. My feet won’t move. A sliver of doubt works its way into my mind. I don’t want to get off the elevator. I could leave, get back in my car, and go to New York tonight. I’ll prove my worth to Mom…to the people at this hotel.

I rub my hand over my face.

And waste the money I spent on this room…only I don’t remember paying.

“It’s just a hotel. An old, creepy hotel. As long as there’s a bed, who cares?”

The doors close as soon as I’m clear, and, with a rumble, the elevator abandons me. I glance at my key. 317. I follow the sign pointing me in the direction of my room and enter a hall. 346 sits in front of me, 348 on the left, so I turn right.

An impossibly long hallway stretches before me, the striped carpet a road leading into infinity. Sconces glow every few feet, but the dark walls close in, defying the light. My rolling suitcase roars in the silence. A parade of closed doors and walls with golden frames, holding eerie landscapes of abstract images.

I stop, turning my head to take in the artwork.

I stare, my thoughts a crumpled wad of confusion. Familiar images. My images.

But they can’t be. My paintings are locked in my trunk. Aren’t they? My fury grows as I pass another and another…mine, but not. Blank spaces infest them. Unfinished. Missing something.

The errors glare from every piece and I run to escape the torment. More hallucinations? Too many voices with no faces. Too many sights with no basis in reality. Too much truth. Maybe my art needs more. Paintings become a blur as I race down the hall, never getting any closer to the end. Pressure builds behind my eyes. Tears? My life holds no place for tears. I am exactly where I want to be.

Tomorrow. It all begins tomorrow. New York offers everything I need. I’ll find a place to live. I’ll find a job. The people will provide all the inspiration I need to fill in what’s missing. Chaotic movement will offer shapes and brush strokes. The noise will become loud colors, line, and texture. Living there will allow me to claim greatness. And one day a gallery will accept my work.

They will won’t they? I pause, staring through the haze of my racing pulse. Doors. Numbers. Where am I? The hall looks the same in both directions, a forever line. I grip my key, repeating the number stamped on it.




I spin. A gold frame hangs on the wall. Paint drips from red letters, from words.



M                                       T

E                               H


N                                   M

G                                 I






“I will be the greatest artist ever. And you will remember me. Everyone will know me!” Rage roars through my words as I throw my body forward, slapping the painting and smearing the glistening letters. Destroying the words. Eradicating the thought. Strangling the doubt. No one questions me.

I glance at my hand, covered in red, shining like blood. I hold it up to the light, enjoying the way it catches the glow and runs down my wrist.

It’s her.

I drop my arm and focus on a dark wooden door, gold numbers 317 sit in a crooked line. I raise my hand and smear the red from my palm across the numbers, claiming them.

My stomach clenches as the paint runs down the door. My body trembles. I need to sleep. I need to concentrate on my plan. The key rattles in the lock as I twist it one way then the other, and a click announces my success.

Careful not to touch anything, I enter, flipping a switch on the wall. A lamp brightens on the desk to my left. The warm glow creeps over the red carpet to touch the edge of the double bed. I close the door and cross the room, throwing my suitcase on the gold comforter, a deep yellow that matches the curtains of the two windows on either side of the bed. I spy the bathroom door and rush to scrub the paint from my hand. The taps squeak, the gush of water a soothing sound. Red spirals down the drain. I wash until the water runs clear, then press my hands on the edge of the white pedestal sink and stare at myself in the oval mirror. Not the face of greatness, but failure. The overhead light catches the bags under my eyes and the paleness of my skin. The red of my hair stands out as if the rest of me exists in black and white.

“Sleep, Ivy. It’s a big day tomorrow. Sleep and this can all be a memory, a bad dream.” The glint of doubt in my eye screams that I don’t believe that. I can’t doubt. I slap my palms on the wall, the mirror jumping. I want to tear it free and break it into a million jagged pieces.

“There’s nothing missing.”

I pull my laptop from my bag and crawl under the covers, too tired and confused to care that I’m still wearing my clothes from the day. My hands shake as I move the cursor to open my e-mails, which confirm the times of my job appointments and apartment showings. I cross check the times with the ones on my phone. By the end of the tomorrow, I’ll have the foundations of my life set.

I picture the art stacked neatly in my car, pieces I worked so hard on, hours, days, weeks…months. In New York, I will continue to grow, my talent ever expanding.

The computer screen flickers. The words blur, swirling together, mixing, dripping. Red seeps onto the screen. Letters flash.

S            M  E              I                            IS   S                N

O                   TH            N   G       M                        I


My mind on the verge of collapse, I grab the computer and throw it at the wall.

“There’s nothing missing.” My words hollow.

I tuck my arms around the pillow and bury my face in the softness, the tears breaking past my barriers. Maybe I’m not good enough.

But I’m so close. And I have New York City…the people will inspire me.

Sleep tiptoes into my mind, pulling me into the dark of dreams, where I run down long hallways, evading questions and searching for fame.

I wake. Standing. Staring at the door of my room. I have to know what’s missing.

The knob is cold. The door creaks open. I enter the hall, following the gold stripes on the red carpet and passing in and out of the stuttering glow of wall sconces. Calm purpose guides me to a door. 317. My room.

Wasn’t I in my room? Maybe. Or maybe this is the true 317, the one waiting for me. A weight settles in my palm. The key. I slide it in the lock and turn. The door swings open in silence. Laughter and the clink of glasses drift into the hall. I enter a white room. The walls lined with art, my art.

I smooth my hands along my hips, pressing the wrinkles out of my pants, then straighten my blazer…only I don’t remember changing my clothes. I run my fingers through my hair, the red a blaze of life against the black suit. All eyes turn to me as I enter, my red Converse squeaking on the floor.

Arms raise, fingers pointing. The people move as one, yet separate.

It’s her.

Their grins morph into looks of disgust. Laughter changes to harsh snickering. Their skin pales, fingers twist to claws.

It’s her.

As one, the people race to the walls, tearing my work from its rightful place.

Not good enough.

Sculptures crash to the floor.

Something missing.

Canvas rips. My rage flares, sharpens.

Pieces of a broken frame scatter at my feet. I reach down, wrapping my fingers around a piece of wood, the jagged edge a perfect tool. An icy fury focuses my mind as I take in the chaos.

They will pay for what they’ve done.

With an enraged cry, I join the fray. I ram the splintered shard into a wide green eye, the horrified expression left on the face…more than satisfying. Purposefully, I walk through the crowd. I wrap canvas strips around necks. Metal sculptures become instruments of death. A slash of steel sends blood splattering over the white walls. My artist’s mind sparks to life as I trail a finger through the mess, the perfect representation of the frailty of life. I gaze at the floor. Bodies, crumpled heaps, create beautiful shapes, the unmoving masses a contrast to the chaos. A man, his gray suit tattered and stained, stops in front of me—hair the color of boredom and frantic insanity shines in his otherwise unremarkable eyes.

He will become so much more.

I slam him into the wall, his arms whipping against the bloody surface. Remnants of a vase crunch under my feet. I pick up a long shard and raise it.

It’s her.

I stab the ceramic piece into his neck, a spray of blood arcs into the air. His body slumps to the ground. Emotion gone, his face sags.

Lifeless eyes, stripped of caring, stare forever at what the living never see.


My art.

Blood and flesh capture what paint and clay never could.

I know what to do now. To be great. To be remembered. To be worshipped.

The people of New York City will be more than my inspiration. They will be my medium of creation.

The gallery, a vision, fades. I walk the hall, the floor falling into nothingness behind me. The elevator carries me to the first floor, the ding a dying croak as the doors open, then rust with a squeal. I descend the stairs to the lobby, the carpet frays as I touch each step. Excitement creeps along the edge of my calm. A new plan firm in my mind.

I hope you enjoyed your stay. Please sign out.

I turn to the front desk, my suitcase waiting. No one lingers behind the counter, but the book sits open, my name written in the ink of a lie. Ivy. My middle name, one I have forced upon myself because I didn’t know.

Now I do. My real self revealed. I take the pen. As the page blackens at the edges, I sign.


My true name. The perfect signature for my art. Art the people of New York City will help me create. A name people will know.

It’s her.

My suitcase at my side like a faithful pup, I cross the lobby. Dust falls as the gems on the chandelier pass into the land of death. The gold sconces tarnish, their light dripping down the worn walls.

The front doors deteriorate, revealing the world I’m so desperate to affect.

The first light of day touches the last wisps of clouds as I climb into my car, sitting alone on a cracked piece of ground. The Thornewood Hotel gone. Possibly never existed.

Colored leaves, red, gold, and brown, fly away in fear as I start the car and head to the highway, to New York. My phone buzzes with reminders, appointments.

My life begins today.



About the Author

Kathleen-Palm-Author-PicWhen a portal didn’t whisk her away to another world, Kathleen Palm decided she’d have to create them. As a kid, she filled sketchpads with drawings of strange creatures and wondrous worlds. She dreamed of being an illustrator and studied art in college. However, in the middle of being a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers, the desire to write her own stories struck. She embarked on the journey of insanity and never looked back, except to keep an eye out for the TARDIS or faeries because, well… because. She loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, believing that magic makes the world a better place. Her kids, husband, cats, dog, and tortoises add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, or watching strange television shows, featuring demons or time travel.
Her two stories can be found in the anthology Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After. Her debut book Doors is forthcoming from REUTS Publications.




Welcome to day fourteen of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #13!

Thornewood Hotel 13



Samantha didn’t want the room. Call her superstitious, but the “13” stamped on the brass keychain didn’t seem like a lucky number for anyone, let alone someone in her predicament. “You’re sure I can’t change it? I mean some hotels don’t even have a thirteenth floor…”

The older woman behind the counter hadn’t bothered to give Sam her name, nor did she wear a name tag beyond the plaque which announced she was the “Night Desk Manager.” Sam doubted the stodgy looking grey haired woman with the pathetically dated makeup complete with blue eyeshadow and too-pink blush was actually a manager. More than likely she was just the only receptionist on duty this late, and the desk title was intended to keep people from getting too uppity.

Either way, she was the only soul Sam had seen since she walked in. If Sam couldn’t convince her to assign her a room, preferably a different one than 13, Sam would be shit out of luck.

“Unfortunately, that’s the only room available to you.” It was an odd turn of phrase, and Sam opened her mouth to call the woman on the implied snub, but she went on. “I’m sure you saw the construction on your way up the drive?”

Sam hadn’t arrived via the driveway, and she hadn’t seen any scaffolding from the side entrance she’d walked up to, but there was no room for argument in the woman’s tone, so she nodded obediently. Assuming she’d arrived the way normal folks did, Sam would have seen it, and so see it she had. She forced a tight smile in response to the wide one on the Night Desk Manager’s face.

“Well, there you are.” For a blink, the red-lipsticked smile seemed to gain an edge like a bloody knife, and Sam shook her head and stepped back. She closed her eyes for a breath and when she opened them again, the smile was just a smile once more. “Are you quite all right?”

“Fine,” Sam hurried to assure her. “Fine. Just tired.” Nothing to see here, lady. Just give me a room, and I’ll be out of your frizzy hair.

The receptionist’s eyes narrowed slightly, her forced joviality freezing just a touch. “You could head one town over if it worries you that much. There’s a Best Western maybe thirty minutes down the road. Closer if you speed just a little.”

Considering Sam had dumped her car in a ditch a good two-hour walk in the opposite direction, the Best Western might as well have been on the moon. The woman’s smile shifted to something more akin to a cruel smirk, as if she knew damn well Sam wouldn’t be driving anywhere tonight. Once more, Sam blinked, and the expression on the receptionist’s face was back to the forced professional welcome when she looked again.

She was tired, she reminded herself. Far too tired to deal with this shit tonight. “Fine, I’ll take the room I guess.”

“Excellent,” the woman agreed, holding out the key to her by the brass tag. Sam took the key and gasped as the cool metal shocked her – the spark flaring visibly in the dim foyer. The other woman didn’t seem to notice. “Enjoy your stay. If you need anything, I’ll be right here at the desk all night.”

It sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Shaking her still stinging hand, Sam nodded sullenly and headed down the hallway the woman had gestured to. Quiet lingered over the hall, and the heavy carpet swallowed the sound of her heavy footsteps in her too-new hiking boots. She couldn’t hear anything as she passed the other rooms, and she guessed it was due to the late hour, though for the life of her she couldn’t remember ever being in a hotel without a single unruly room full of partiers or loudly screwing couples or alternately, loudly arguing couples.

Maybe for once she was the troublesome guest. Sam heard the thought in her mind in Aiden’s voice, and she shivered, before chuckling to herself, the laugh coming out just slightly deranged as it broke the silence.

Getting paranoid, she thought to herself. Aiden’s not here. Not yet. He will be, though, she promised herself. She just had to figure this mess out, and then she’d be able to call Aiden and tell him where to come find her. He would, of course; he’d always promised he’d be there if she needed him.

She shoved down the thought that he’d made the promise to someone else recently, too. That didn’t matter. And she’d dealt with it, hadn’t she?

A flicker from the lights in the hall distracted her from her bitter thoughts, and she realized she’d reached the door marked “13.” The key stuck in the lock, and the knob turned with a rusted screech that had her cringing and checking the hallway behind her, hoping she hadn’t drawn attention from any of the other guests or the bitch back at the desk. Sam pushed open the door, finding it far heavier than she expected. She extracted the key and stepped through, gasping as the door slammed behind her.

“Get your shit together, Sam. Christ,” she admonished herself. She was letting the day get to her, just as she’d promised herself she wouldn’t. It was over and done with; Aiden was free now, and he’d be with her soon. He would.

Shaking her head fiercely, she flicked on the light. The dim bulb over the bed revealed a dingy room cluttered with rickety looking faux antiques. It was cleaner than some of the shitty motels she’d stayed in, but only barely, and the musty scented air hung oppressively over everything like a layer of dust. There wasn’t a fan, nor an AC unit that she could see, and she twisted to walk past the scant room at the end of the bed to reach the heavily curtained window, tugging the brocade to one side to reveal dirty panes that looked back into an overgrown courtyard. The moonlight just barely filtered down between the tall walls of the hotel, and the dim light cast the tangle of vines and shrubs into shadows that seemed to twist as Sam watched.

She shuddered and slung the curtain shut again, deciding it was better to sleep in a stuffy room than beside a window anyone in the courtyard might be able to look into. She looked back at the room and scowled. Ten bucks said the woman at the desk tossed her in this dump just for spite. If they were renovating, this room clearly was the last one on the list.

“Bitch,” she muttered, wishing she had the option to just leave after all. But it was here or sleep in the woods, and the walk to the hotel through the dark had been bad enough. She didn’t dare risk a trek for the Best Western at this time of night.

No, she was stuck here, and she knew it. With a huff, she pulled her backpack off, setting it on the bed and digging for toothpaste and a brush. Her mouth still tasted like copper, the lingering flavor now with a slightly rotten taint after the hours. She’d rinsed it out dozens of times since she’d left Aiden’s, but the awful taste seemed determined to linger. Sam moved to the bathroom door and was unsurprised to find it miniscule and grungy. A quick glance behind the shower curtain told her she’d have to deal with the grime on her skin for now: there looked to be enough mold for a cheese factory on the tiles.

Once again she cursed the night desk bitch under her breath. No way this hell hole was accidently assigned to her. The hotel looked too nice in the hallway for the state of the room to be acceptable.

Shaking her head and promising herself she’d leave at first light, Sam turned on the sink and waited for the rusty water to run somewhat clear. It wasn’t totally clean though, as she discovered after she brushed. It must have tainted the toothbrush; if anything her mouth tasted worse than it had before she brushed. She gagged, fighting back the urge to vomit. Mouthwash was added to her mental list of things she needed on the run.

Maybe Aiden would bring some with him when they met up. Yeah, she told herself, that would save her some cash. She’d wait for him.

With that thought to ease some of her frustration, she returned to the bedroom and slid between the sheets, not bothering to change her clothes. God only knew what filth caked the sheets. After seeing the bathroom, she figured her disgusting clothes would likely up the quality of the room instead of lowering it.

Sam did have to toe off her hiking boots after a moment. Sleeping in them felt too strange for her, and there were blisters on her heels after the trek from her car to the hotel. She leaned out of the bed to set them right beside the backpack to the left of her. If she needed to leave in a hurry, all she’d have to do was slip into the boots and take off running.

No one saw her leaving town except Aiden, and there was no way he’d turn her in to the authorities. No, she was safe enough for now. Tomorrow she’d add more distance between her and the cops. Tonight she needed rest and sleep. With that in mind, she curled up and forced herself to close her eyes and think of nothing but her future with Aiden. They’d get a little cabin somewhere, she decided, by a lake maybe with a dock and a pretty porch swing. Far away from anyone who’d try to separate them. Yeah, that’d be perfect.

She drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face and blood still under her fingernails.

Sam blinked awake to the sound of scratching against glass and a flutter of heavy fabric. She stretched, scowling again at the musty smell of the pillowcase and turned to the source of the sound, now louder, more insistent.

The window was open.

She sat up straight, eyes on the window and the fingerlike tendrils of vines snaking their way through the scant inch between the sill and the slowly raising window. Heart racing, Sam lunged, slamming the window back down with a crash and flipping the lock.

At once, the screeching sound ceased, and the curtains stopped moving. She breathed deep, choking out a laugh into the thick silence of the night. She must have opened it in her sleep.

She ran a hand over her face and sighed raggedly. Sam forced herself up and into the tiny bathroom to splash tepid water on her face, chasing away the stress of the window and nightmare she couldn’t quite remember.

She was halfway back to the bed when the phone rang, sending her heart pounding in her throat again. Gingerly, her hand shaking more than she’d like, Sam reached for the phone and answered. “Hello? Who is this?”

Static crackled in her ear, and this a familiar voice broke through the noise.

Samantha?” Aiden. It was Aiden! He’d found her, somehow; she didn’t care how, just that he had, as he always did.

“Aiden? Where are you? Are you on your way, babe?”

More static cut in, and she clutched the headset to her ear, hoping to hear him saying he would be there soon. “Samantha… Oh God, what have you done? What did you do?”

His voice held no affection, only the same horror it had when he’d found her in his bedroom, Lydia sprawled on the floor before her. He hadn’t understood then, but he should understand now, damn it! “You know what I did – you know why I had to do it! She was using you, baby. She was just using you!”

The phone cut out without even a dial tone, leaving a painful silence in her ear. She pounded on the phone frantically, trying desperately to get Aiden back on the line, even daring to call his home number as she’d warned herself not to. Nothing worked. She slammed down the headset with a curse, almost knocking the phone off the nightstand. As she caught it, she glanced down at the wall, only then noticing the phone cord lay on the floor instead of being plugged in.

Sam stared at it, mouth dry and still tasting of blood.

She must have tugged it loose while she was on the phone.

Simple explanation. No need to stress.

She tore her gaze away and forced herself to crawl back into the small bed, the room feeling half the size it had before with the walls and ceiling seeming to press in on her in the dark. Sam curled up and closed her eyes tightly, trying desperately to will herself back to sleep and that dream with Aiden, to think of anything but the sad excuse for a room closing in.

The window screeched again, this time louder and more ragged like the cackling of some devious witch waiting on the other side of the glass. Despite her determination to keep her eyes shut tight, Sam found herself turning over to watch as the window opened itself little by little.

The moon seemed to shine brighter than it had before she’d gone to sleep, clearly illuminating the fact that no one stood in the courtyard. No hands were there to lift the window, only the vines she’d seen before, now spiky and covered in thorns like some misbegotten rose bush when she would have sworn before they were smooth and curling like ivy. As she watched, beginning to tremble in fear, those sharp-spined branches forced their way in the window one by one, then two by three by so many more than she could count. More than she would have thought could possibly fit through the window. The weight of them forced the window open wider, shattering the glass and cracking the walls all around the frame.

More vines folded themselves in half to creep up the wall holding the window; others fell to the floor, weaving a vicious looking rug over the stained carpet.

Others strained straight ahead over empty space to reach the bed, thorned vines launching themselves at the blanket like miniature grappling hooks, snagging the fabric and inching closer and closer to where Sam still lay. Watching them approach, she tried to move, mentally straining to roll herself off the bed and reach for her shoes, but her body refused to move. One by one, the vines stretched out over her form, pinning her firmly beneath the blankets.

Now she could move, wriggling helpless beneath the bindings, but her struggles only caused the thorns to pierce the blanket’s fabric enough to reach skin, scratching at her legs and arms, causing her to cry out in pain and panic.

Still the vines came: covering her from feet to neck with a thick quilt of thorns, wet drops of blood gleaming against the darkness. Finally, the vines stopped moving over the bed, but the others, those against the wall, kept creeping up and up, pulling away from the building to form a figure in the empty space between the bed and the bathroom.

A figure that stood a few inches shorter than Sam’s 5’8” of height. A figure with vines trailing down like long curls. Parts of the mass of vegetation broke away on either side, and Sam swore she could see a torso with arms, then legs that stepped forward jerkily, bringing the dimly lit figure closer and closer to where Sam was pinned to the bed.

It reached the bedside and leaned down, thorny locks falling down over its shoulder to smack Sam in the face, a thorn snagging the corner of her eye causing it to water.

Then the figure spoke. At first, the voice was harsh and hard to understand, but with each word it grew clearer, stabilizing into a voice she knew all too well. A voice she shouldn’t ever be able to hear again.


“We were supposed to be friends. How could you? You knew how I felt about him!” The words were familiar, replayed from Sam and Lydia’s last confrontation, but it hadn’t been Lydia who said them. The vine creature continued to speak, parroting back Sam’s own words in a verbal attack. “Some friend you are. How soon did you fuck him, huh bitch? Did you even care that it would hurt me? Did you?!”

A vine arm struck out, hitting Sam across the face with all the weight and force of a certain, now destroyed, bedside table lamp. Her head and neck jerked painfully against the bindings holding her fast. Blood flowed from a cut on her forehead, stinging her eyes. She tried to blink it away, to see her attacker more clearly, but the blow made her dizzy and her vision swam.

The Lydia form went on, voice rising strident and angry in a way that should have brought other guests of the hotel or the bitch at the desk pounding against the door in complaint. No one came.

“He loves me, you know. He always has. How’s it feel to be his stand-in? To know he’s thinking of me when he fucks you?”

Sam tried to respond, tried to argue with the figure which moment by moment grew to look more like her former friend, the one who’d taken her Aiden from her, but her mouth was clumsy. “No… Aiden… He loves me. He does.”

The figure struck her again and again, sending splatters of blood up to splash across the empty space were Lydia’s face flickered in and out, some of the red smeared across her mouth. Sam wondered if Lydia could taste the blood the way she had for hours.

“Aiden never loved you. Aiden couldn’t love you. You’re nothing. Not to him. Not to me. You… are… nothing!”

Screaming incoherently now, the Lydia figure struck Sam again and then lunged forward, weight pinning her to the bed and sending the thorns pressing further through the blanket, digging ragged furrows in her skin.

Before Sam could yell out in pain, the figure reached forward with its hook covered arms, wrapping them tightly about her throat and squeezing, just as Sam had squeezed the life out of Lydia hours before.

Sam tried to speak, to move her arms to try to fight the thing off, to cry for help, or just beg for her life, but the vicious vines only tightened, cutting off all air or chance on sound.

Blood still running into her eyes and seeping from where the thorns cut into her throat as they strangled her, Sam clung to consciousness just long enough to see the ceiling fall down upon her as Room 13 collapsed in on itself.


The Night Desk Manager sighs as the familiar pains in her stomach, like those of a terrible hunger, ease then fade completely. The hunger belongs to the Room, as does the urgency under her skin whenever a proper occupant approaches the Thornewood. With it comes the key blinking into existence in the exact center of the counter, one that she may only give to a guest with an aura reeking of blood and betrayal.

This one will leave the Room sated for quite some time, if the Night Desk Manager knows her business, and she does. Tomorrow, her daylight counterpart will find news in the paper of a woman’s body found in some distant town, strangled to death if the Night Desk Manager has read the Room’s intentions correctly, and the futile hunt for the killer will continue. Perhaps the mortal authorities will find a car or a bloody pair of hiking boots, but not the killer herself, not that “Samantha” who held the world and her victim in such contempt.  

But the Room has never been mortal or bound to human laws. Its justice is its own, one there is no escaping.

Down the hall, there comes a shimmy in the fabric of the floor, and the dim lamps clatter for a beat. Then all is still. The Night Desk Manager does not need to look to know the door labeled “13” has disappeared once again, now that the Room has eaten its fill.

Then, the key reappears on her desk just as it always does, a smear of blood across the brass number. The Night Desk Manager hums contentedly and reaches to clean the key with her handkerchief. The key then vanishes once more, and she turns to note that this latest guest has paid her debts in full.



About the Author

Author pic CL McCollumC. L. McCollum spends her time delving into the wonder of the world. She’s always been drawn to the “How” and the “Why” and the “Is this even possible?” While her debut novel is on the road to publication, C. L. has contributed to multiple anthologies, and also co-edits a charity anthology series known as “Clichés for a Cause” and is a founding member of the Herding Cats Press #MimosaThursday podcasts.  Currently, C. L. is keeping it weird in Austin, TX with the love of her life and their various furry roommates.

You can find her at home at, on Facebook, and in the Twitterverse. You can find her stories on her Amazon Author page.


Welcome to day thirteen of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from  a special key, one that is very old…one that many didn’t know existed at all.



Here’s what I know of ghosts: most of them don’t know they’ve moved on. Like a television set that’s been shut off recently, there’s a faint glow left over once it’s turned off.

It’s a light that lingers for a time, but it fades.

From the road that winds around the base of the hill and upwards into the thicket surrounding the Thornewood, you can see the widow’s walk rising above the tree line. Its black gable points heavenward though the hotel’s contemplation and somber exterior recall more earthly preoccupations; the living that pass through its halls, and the dead who linger still.

I’m under the stretch of shadow that falls from the trees surrounding the Thornewood when I see it for the first time: it’s hardly more than a shine; an orb of light that rustles the heavy drapes on the fourth floor. There a moment, and receding to darkness, leaving the windowpanes to reflect the last of the autumn leaves hanging on to those black branches.

Not so unlike a television set powering off — that light.

I’m raking up the leaves in the yard. Such a mundane thing to be doing, the first time you see a ghost.

Sure, that’s part of Thornewood’s charm: the old place is haunted, don’t you know? Something about how the light slants through her hallways that makes a fella think on his grave a little too long; a transient quality that shifts in subtle patterns that appear and vanish as fast as they come. ‘Course it might be my old eyes playing tricks.

If there are ghosts at the Thornewood Hotel, I like to think that they came for a time and fell enchanted with the old girl just like I did. The converted Georgian does have a way about her with all that wood panel and brass. Comfortable beds, some rooms still with working fireplaces, moldings and chandeliers golden and glittering, the fittings from the 1800’s when she was built. Sure, we have modern plumbing, and the electric works just fine, but even down from the drive you can see how she glows on a gray autumn day like she was lit from the inside with candles, all those trees turning to fire when the setting October sun touches their leaves.

It’s haunting alright.

Especially with the twilight coming.

Here’s what I know of spirits: most of them don’t need the reminder that their time’s past. It’s an inconvenience for the folks trying to get rid of them, and a hassle for any soul that’s gotten stuck on a place.

Best not to interfere with their business. I suspect that most of them, if they don’t know they’re already dead, don’t want to be bothered with the finding out that they are, if you follow me.

I don’t think much on the light in the window as I collect my rake and head around the property to the shed in the back. I don’t think of investigating. Those stories are just a draw for the tourists. Surely, in all the years I’ve cared for her, I’d have seen more than a flicker at a window: a pale face with dark eyes there one moment and gone when I looked back.

Where my kin came from, back in Boston, we had a name for that sort of thing — those lights: Spook lights. Hobby lanterns. Corpse candles — like the fire leftover from the soul never wanted to be snuffed out.

If Thornewood’s haunted, the ghosts don’t bother me none, and I sure don’t bother them, but there sure are enough stories about her:

She was used as a military hospital after the war, and guests like to complain of “cold spots” on the second floor where they converted the library to a temporary sick ward. There was an actress who took too many sleeping pills one night with a bottle of champagne and never woke up, and a boy who drowned in the claw-footed tub on the fourth floor when his ma locked herself out in the hall. They like to mention the fire in the south ballroom that started from a forgotten cigarette, and the businessman who hung himself from his ceiling fan when the stock market crashed in the 20s.

The hospitality staff likes to tell the guests when they ask about the portraits in the foyer that the paintings like to watch as they pass. The dapper-looking gent over the fireplace in the parlor is particularly keen, too: Lord Ashcroft came over from England, winning the land where the Thornewood stands over a hand of poker that ended with a pistol fight and a hunk of lead in his gut. They never got the bullet out, so while Lord Ashcroft caught lead poisoning, his son Walter got the land. Figures he’d be a bit put out that he died while so many others have been able to enjoy the old estate — the duck pond, the greenhouses and the garden, and the trail that leads to the North Wood where the caretaker’s shed is, and the little, hidden cemetery belonging to the grounds.

Never saw fit to disinter it; there’s a lot of history buried here for the two hundred years Thornewood’s been around, and it’s all grown over anyhow. You can hardly see the grave markers under all the moss and ivy. No one goes back there save a few deer that come from the wood.

I don’t bother neither; no sense in disturbing the dead, marching over their graves. Keep myself busy in other ways, being devoted to old Thornewood as I am. I’ve been here so long that the staff doesn’t even tell me what needs fixing. I just know when a pipe springs a leak or a bedspring pops. Call it second-nature, but I can feel it.

I’ve cared for the Thornewood since I was barely sixteen and apprenticing to old Winslow whose occupation I took over once he passed.

Been here long enough and heard the tour groups often enough when they’re showing off this room or that, or when a writer or a researcher comes by to request a specific lodging — you know the ones: the rooms where the radio clicks on by itself when you’re in the shower, or a light fixture goes dark, leaving you in the black while you’re trying to read. Mind starts playing tricks on you, then; start seeing shadows where there aren’t any. I seen ‘em. I also know that in the north wing there’s a block of rooms with electrical wiring from the 30s that act up when there’s a thunderstorm. Anything on that circuit is bound to behave strangely enough.

Sometimes a faucet will turn on by accident because the pressure in a pipe built up, or a radio will click on because it’s too old to fix, and too antique to throw out.

She’s old, Thornewood, but I know her damn good.

Winslow taught me the ropes, and Winslow was nearly eighty by the time I came on to learn the trade. He couldn’t climb the ladders anymore to wash the windows. They were rickety old things, made of wood that gave you splinters if your calluses weren’t thick enough to hold their rungs. I came fresh from secondary school and never worked a day in my life, so you can imagine what that first spring was like for my hands. I fell once, from three floors up, while cleaning one of the windows. Big old stake good enough to skewer a vampire lodged into my palm. Hurt more than the fall.

Dusted myself off like it was nothing and went straight back to work before Winslow decided I wasn’t worth the lawsuit. Was like a rite of passage: had to prove myself to the old girl before I earned the key to all her rooms.

Key to Thornewood’s heart, more like. A key so important it had a name of its own: Winslow called it The Skeleton. Capital “The”, capital “Skuh.”

The Skeleton.

I feel her weight in my pocket, and I give it a pat.

That key was given to me by Winslow back when I started in the 50s — an antique — used to open all doors, like it was a rite of passage that I’d earned her trust. I’ve kept it on my belt ever since, even though they’ve switched to newfangled electronics in the main house. Swipe cards or some such, though they never got rid of the fixtures.

Thornewood’s doors are just as thin as they were at the turn of the century, but once in a while you’ll hear about a doorknob rattling from the outside, and when someone gets brave enough to pop their head into the hall, they find that there’s no one out there.

I tug the chain that loops into the old Georgian skeleton in my pocket; a welcome weight that I pull out as I set my rake against the shed. It fits the lock here too, and I notch it in, thinking I ought to oil the hinges on the door. It sticks. Won’t turn worth a lick.

The sun’s set behind the trees and the woods around me are touched with the blue shades of evening that deepen to black. Shadows creep in from the forest, climbing over the shrubs and greenery that turn skeletal the closer winter comes. I’ll move up to the main house soon when the cold gets into my bones, but for now, the deepening night blankets the small path that runs into bracken covering the cemetery. All is quiet, save the rustle of branches overhead.

I like it out here. It’s not so lonely once you get used to it.

Shame that the old key is giving me trouble tonight, though.

I set my rake against the side of the shed and give the skeleton a wiggle, trying to get it the lock to turn.

Being attached as it is to the chain that keeps it tied to my belt loop, I can’t twist it the way it needs. I retract it, squinting at the teeth. I rub a thumb over it to get off anything that might be sticking — butter toffee or a bit of pocket lint — and try again.

Soon enough it’ll get to be so dark that I’ll have to go all the way back to the Thornewood to get a torch. My knees don’t like the idea of the walk back up the hill so much.

Frowning, I take it out again and untangle the mess of chain that’s wrapping it. Removing the key from the chain entirely, I tuck the strand of metal into my pocket. Bending down takes an effort my back doesn’t care for, but the keyhole seems clear. It’s so dark inside I can’t hardly tell if there’s something jamming the lock.

Something shifts all of a sudden, and I can see straight into the shed. Straight through the lock, like someone’d stood right in front of it just a moment before.

Leaning on the side of the shed, I stand just enough to readjust myself. There’s no explanation for my heart to drum in my throat. Old body’s getting to be a problem, and I think of Winslow at eighty-four, when he used to complain of similar problems: Seeing things. Hearing them too.

First the body goes, and then the mind.

It was probably a trick of the light.

I bend down to check again, but nothing’s changed save that I can feel the blood rushing to my head from bending over.

I ease the key in, and —

It drops with a clatter.

I frown at it a moment, lying there on the shed’s porch, debating the difficulties of my aging body and the three feet it’s gonna take to retrieve the key.

It wasn’t always like this, you know.

Winslow brought me on to show me how to look after the old girl. Taught me what Thornewood liked: Vinegar for the windows and Murphy’s Oil for the floors. Baking soda to lift the stains from the rugs that ran the hallways. Orange oil polish for the lamps. Borax for the wash with a little bluing liquid to get the sheets white and crisp, though I don’t handle anyone’s laundry but my own anymore. All of these things I keep in the shed, tucked under my cot and arranged with the labels facing outward on the shelves. It ain’t much, but it’s as home to me as Thornewood herself.

It’s a peculiar sort of love I have for her that’s grown over the years. When everyone departs at the end of the high season, I’m the one who stays on as the leaves go from green to gold, then red, and the guests who come to stay over the summer months go back to wherever they’re from.

But I stay on. I look after her, even when the halls are mostly empty for the winter and her gables take on enough snow to make the roof leak. I patch her up. I set her right.

I’m looking at that old key like it’s a talisman, but really there ain’t any magic in it: I’m about to rearrange myself to collect it, taking a step forward in the dark, but that’s a mistake: I kick the confounded thing under the door with the toe of my boot.

If Winslow could see me now: eyes shut, one hand trembling against the siding, hunched up like my whole body was asking why I wasn’t as young and spry as I used to be, he’d probably die from laughter.

A rustle in the brush to my left sounds an awful lot like it.

There’s no one out here but me, of course, though it seems for a moment that something winks to life in the darkness just over the path.

It’s there and gone in a blink, much like the orb in the fourth-floor window. All that I can see, even if I strain, is the movement of bushes, though I swear under that hushed conference of leaves I can hear someone’s muffled chortling.

I’m going to have to bend down to get the key.

I know it. My knees know it. My back knows it.

My mind knows that if I do, I might not be able to get back up again, and given the fact that the staff ignores me more times than not, I’ll probably be left out here to freeze under the first snowfall.

I’m about to make the effort too, halfway down to taking a knee like a footballer, when something — someone — shuttles the key back out from under the door.

It stops against my boot: parked there, like it’s got a mind of its own and it’s waiting for me to collect it before it can sneak away again.

I peek into the keyhole again because I can’t help myself.

Don’t even hesitate: I stick my eye up against it and search the shadowy lumps of garden tools and snow shovels. Shapes form out of the darkness — mounds that look like reaching fingers, a shrouded head — but nothing moves.

I want to ask who’s playing tricks, but the sound catches against my teeth and I bite down on the words before I can sound a fool.

I pick up the key, ignoring the creak in my spine and the tense muscles that make movement hard, and I slide it into the lock this time without a fuss. Some things go easier if you don’t stop to think them over.

I’m not thinking about Thornewood’s ghosts.

I’m not thinking about what’s waiting for me inside my shed. If anything, that spook’s been a real help.

“Thanks,” I say to no one.

The door opens to darkness, as I expected, and I don’t mind the black. It smells like fertilizer and mulch, but I keep it tidy. I’ve overheard stories about my shed too — a clatter and a racket in the night as if someone was rummaging around through the garden tools. It only happened once that I found the collection of my things rearranged, but I set it right in the cold light of day and haven’t seen a disturbance since.

If there are ghosts here, they know that the caretaker’s shed is mine.

Nothing tonight is out of place, but there’s an unsettled energy that twines about my ankles like the after-impression of a cat re-familiarizing itself with my presence.

I light a wick in the lantern I keep by my bedside and turn the knob to dispel any lingering haints in the corners. There’s nothing and no one here save me.

My heart gives a pulse and a twang anyway, and I place the key on the bedside table as if to keep a weather eye on it should it move, or fall, or shuffle into the dark space between the bed and the desk of its own accord, or if something should move it with invisible hands. There’s something about the thought I find unsettling: some bit of shadow lurking in the back of the mind that recalls, as a child, wanting to shut the closet door completely; that wants to draw the limbs fully under the covers once the lights are turned off.

I settle onto my cot to shake off my work boots and to rest my mind as much as my body. It’s cold enough out here to see my breath, but with the door closed and the oil lantern lit, the warmth will seep into my bones soon enough. I don’t think my trembling fingers are from the cold, but I push the thought away. I focus on the lamplight as it throws shadows up the wall instead. They don’t make lamps like they used to. This too was Winslow’s, and it’s a relic from a bygone era that could heat a room enough to make you sweat when it gets going.

My pa had one just like it before he died and I took this job. No other way to support myself with both my folks having moved on. They’re buried out in Boston at Granary. Seems like it was an eon ago since I seen them last, and that’s a thought I linger on as I look up to the only tiny, black window in the shed.

I jolt, gripping the edge of the cot, and the sudden motion sears through my neck, my shoulders, and emerges as the throb of a fractured headache. Old bones. The muscles in my back are still searing as I clutch my knees to take a firmer grip on reality. The bones under my hands are knobbed and angular under the skin. It shifts under my hands, but its real. I’m real.

That face in the window — just my reflection mottled by the dirt so that the features look hollowed out. Scooped out eyes are only splotches of rain-washed earth dried and clinging in the hollows where my cheeks are. My heart gives a rare, too-large skip that might be the murmur fussing.

I begin laughing, until I realize that my reflection isn’t laughing with me.

Here’s what I know of ghosts: they don’t bother me, and I won’t bother them.

I’ve grabbed the lantern, the skeleton key in my fist, the old ticker knocking into my ribs, and I’m out the door and around the side of the shed before it can say, “Boo.”

I heard this story a time ago about the cemetery out at the back of the property, buried under all that creeper. One of the kids working the bellhop desk was trying to impress his sweetheart with a little bravado.

The kid said he used to see lights out here in the wood; wisps that rose right out of the path, lighting the forest with an eerie, phosphor blue out back by the caretaker’s shed.

That’s how he found the cemetery. Those spook lights led him right to those overgrown slabs of cracked marble; gravestones so old the names were washed clear away with erosion.

Lord Ashcroft’s buried out here some place with his kin, but there are others of course; those that tended to the Thornewood who would have been interred as indigents elsewhere. Folks who loved her, or who couldn’t leave for some reason or another.

That actress, for one, the young boy who drowned in the bathtub, another; remains that go unclaimed.

I told you, I’ve taken care of the old girl for a long time, and of course, I meant by that that I cared for her guests as well, especially those that settled in for a longer stay than most.

I’m thinking of the boy in particular as that spiraling, roiling blue light hovers beneath the leaves and rises above the path, urging me to follow.

I recall his mother in particular as I follow the light down the path, brushing aside the underbrush as it vanishes and reappears several feet away. I follow it, figuring I won’t get a wink of rest tonight if I don’t.

Such a sad woman to find herself in such a state. Heard she died years later in a sanitarium not so far away from the Thornewood — out at a nice, quiet place in the valley. Some folks couldn’t handle the rigors of the treatment back then, and she was already so frail from losing her boy.

Can’t fault anyone for letting go, though I don’t rightly understand it myself: if it were me, I’d never want to leave her; the Thornewood’s the only home I’ve ever known.

I pause on the path, my ankle knocking a toppled slab as the corpse candle wends its ways into the thicker parts of the underbrush. There are stones out here, I know, but it’s obvious that it wants to show me something out in the deepest part of the forest. To my left, a collection of larger, better-kept monuments belonging to the family rise statuesque in the moonlight: white, hazy shapes that leave spectral impressions watching me from the dark.

I go the other way, into the black, wading deeper into foliage and catching roots. When the glow vanishes, sinking beneath the brush and tangle of creeper, I’m hardly surprised. We’ve reached its intended destination.

They’ve got other names for those lights where I come from: will o’ the wisp, spook light, corpse candle; named because they’re forever so close to the bodies that they came from.

It hurts when I kneel down, feeling my way with one hand, the other holding the lantern aloft to see what I’m doing as I pull back the tangle that covers the stone. Something twinges in my chest, like a piece of some old history has slid out of place: two vertebrae sliding back into place. It hurts, and then there’s relief I didn’t know I was missing.

The year is hardly visible, but I know it well: 1853, three years into my apprenticeship with old Winslow learning how to care for the Thornewood; the same year I fell from the ladder from three stories up.

The hotel never wanted a lawsuit, and I know now why I never gave them one: I can barely read my own name, carved hastily into the marble so the engraving’s mostly worn down and forgotten, much like the memory of me in this place.

Explains why the staff never say thanks when I mop the front hall.

My hands, pale and a little translucent in the lamplight, remember the feeling of wood splinter embedded into my skin from the ladder. They tremble a little, but not so much anymore, knowing that I never have to leave if I don’t want to.

Here’s what I know of ghosts: most of them don’t know they’ve moved on.

The Skeleton and the Corpse Candle

About the Author Kira Butler

kira-300x300Raised on Stephen King and Anne Rice, Kira’s interest in the macabre bloomed early on. Her influences today hearken back to her first forays into dark urban fantasy and horror, paranormal romance as well as paranormal studies. She is a taphophile, an appreciator of neoclassical sculpture, an aficionado of the occult, and a lover of all things Victorian. You can often find her haunting her favourite local coffee shops, basking in the warm glow of her MacBook Pro or with her nose shoved into a book and sucking down yet another cup of tea.



Welcome to day twelve of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s artwork comes from room #616!

Thornewood Hotel 616

Thornewood Brides

Thornewood Brides

Watercolor and ink


About the Artist


Michelle Y. Llamas has written professionally and edited and created content for over ten years. Her published non-fiction can be found in print and online in magazines, peer-reviewed journals and some of the best internet marketing companies. By day, she writes about dangerous drugs and medical devices and hosts a podcast radio show called Drugwatch Radio. By night, she immerses herself in fiction.

She is currently working on several novellas and novels in the paranormal, fantasy and romance genres for eventual publication. When she is not writing, she doodles, plays video games, eats stuff and plays with 1/6 scale action figures.

She lives in Florida with her animal familiar, a cat named Gypsy Danger.





Welcome to day eleven of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!

You can find a list of all participants here.

Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #37. Read if you dare!

Thornewood Hotel 37

Jake had a gnawing ‘Don’t go in there!’ feeling from the moment he and Ellie stepped out of the cab and onto the cracked sidewalk of the Thornewood Hotel. Something in his twenty-two-year-old frame craved survival and this place screamed death. Or maybe, ‘Clean me.’ Ellie skipped ahead of him, her pale hair swinging behind her, and gestured for him to pick up the pace.

“Come oooonnnn,” she sing-songed. “You’re not… scared, are you?”

Jake scoffed, but his palms were sweaty. The place was huge— seven stories of crooked windows, grim white brick, and generally neglected light fixtures. Not to mention the crumbling columns guarding the entrance like specters, and the eerie feeling all the skeletal trees on the property were watching him. Dumb, he knew, since they didn’t have eyes.

Jake pulled his scarf tighter around his neck, then hefted his and Ellie bags towards the entrance. The walk from the curb to the hotel steps was a good four-hundred feet with overgrown, sprawling lawns to either side of them. The fall air nipped at his cheeks and ears. Ahead, the lights flickered and otherwise failed to light the dark walkway. Damn, Jake wasn’t a believer, but this place was creepy.

Ellie squealed and turned back to him. “I can’t believe you’re finally taking me for a haunted retreat. I’ve only been asking—”


“Not forever.” Ellie smacked his arm. “Just since we met. And only to go to the very best haunts in the nation.”

“Really?” Jake narrowed his eyes at her as he skirted a thistle bush trying to claim a section of the sidewalk. “Gettysburg is one of the best? Or The French quarter? Seattle? Come on.”

“Hey, I know my haunts.” Ellie’s face turned dead serious and she pursed her mouth at him like she did whenever he told her there was no such thing as ghosts.

That face meant he was in the doghouse and at this moment, he did not want to piss her off before walking into America’s most haunted hotel— even if it was just paid actors and special effects inside. He sidled up next to her, put his chin on her shoulder and kissed her neck. “I’m sorry. I know you love your ghosts. That’s why we’re here, right?”

Ellie’s posture relaxed. She met Jake’s gaze. “Dying can be so lonely. The Afterlife shouldn’t have to be.”

She said that a lot. She said that the first night they met, six months ago when he was drunk and stumbling through campus in the middle of the night, and she appeared out of nowhere to help him find his dorm. He didn’t get that saying, but he nodded. “Then let’s go meet some of your ghouls.”



The inside of Thornewood was something straight out of Jake’s childhood nightmares. Creaking doors. Hideous wallpaper. Meager lighting… On second thought, maybe it was something straight out of an interior designer’s nightmares. Either way it gave him the feeling of insects crawling up and down his spine and he couldn’t quite catch his breath. He hated bugs.

The reception desk was staffed by a single soul— a woman that could only be described as icy. As they approached, she watched them with unblinking eyes and a death stare that would make a grown man wet his pants. Not that Jake did. He just understood how it could happen.

“Good evening,” she said. She drew out the words like long, dangerous daggers. “How may I assist you?”

“Checking in for Hammond. Jake. We have a room for the weekend.” Ellie grabbed Jake’s elbow and beamed at him, then turned back to the receptionist. “It’s our first haunted retreat. Together, I mean. I’ve haunted lots of places.”

The receptionist eyed Ellie and let out an amused hum. She pulled out a quill— who the hell uses a quill?— and made a few notes on a worn piece of paper. “Very well. You’ll be in… suite #37. Be aware: our rooms have been known to manifest their occupants’ greatest fears, and no, maintenance will not clean up after your nightmares.”

Jake blinked. Was that a joke?

The receptionist went on. “Our dining hall is located in the East wing, first floor, just down that hall.” She pointed. “Our chef is rather fond of entrails so I hope neither of you have gout.”

Jake started to ask out loud this time if she was serious, but Ellie stepped on his foot, and he shut his mouth. Like Ellie cared. All the time they’d been together and he’d hardly seen her eat. A lanky bellhop appeared from behind the desk and set to messing with keys behind the counter. The receptionist didn’t acknowledge him.

“You’re in luck,” she said. “Tonight is our weekly Séance with Madam Leota in the forgotten dance hall.”

Ellie shrieked with delight.

The bell hop turned. “We have a dance hall?”

“My point precisely.” The receptionist gave a smug grin and pushed an ancient map towards Jake and Ellie. “It begins at midnight. You can take the elevators up to your room or down to the dance hall if you wish you attend. Though the one on the left tends to bleed on first-time guests, so keep that in mind.”

“B-bleed?” Jake looked from Ellie to the receptionist. “Is she kidding? Are you kidding?”

Ellie’s tinkling laughed filled the air. She slapped his arm. Again. Her frame was so slight he didn’t really feel it. “Come on, Jake. Let’s go unpack and grab something for dinner before the séance. This is too perfect.”

Jake frowned. “It’s a Thursday. Who holds a séance on a Thursday?”

The receptionist snapped her fingers and a second bellhop appeared. This one had dark hair, kohl-rimmed eyes and— Jake’s eyes bulged. There was something off about the bellhop. His face. He was missing… every time he tried to think the word, it slipped away from him. It was only after he took their bags and left, after he was out of earshot and Ellie had dragged Jake towards the elevators that it came to him.

Jake grabbed Ellie’s chin and tipped her head up. “The bellhop… he had no mouth.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t see it? No mouth. How does that even—”

Ellie scoffed. “For someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts, you’re getting awfully creeped out, babe. I didn’t notice anything, except he seemed like a sad bellhop. Now, let’s go.”

The receptionist cleared her throat. “Mr. Hammond?”

Jake stopped and turned.

“I nearly forgot.” Her stern expression morphed into a frigid grin. “Welcome to Thornewood. I hope it’s an experience you never forget.”

Jake glanced around at the cobweb ridden foyer, towards the elevator that might bleed on him, and gulped. Yeah, he seriously doubted he would ever forget this trip. Not for the rest of his life.



The forgotten dance hall looked exactly like Jake thought it would. Couches and chairs draped with corpse-white sheets lined the walls, which were snaked with cracks in the poorly done venetian-plaster. A lifeless chandelier hung from the ceiling and swayed, back and forth, back and forth— on a noose. The dust was thick enough to leave tracks in. Not to mention the ‘grand entrance’ doors had to be propped open with skull-shaped door stops and were X-ed off with caution tape. On the stage in the corner sat four chairs, arranged for a string-quartet that probably couldn’t find the place. If Ellie didn’t have such an innate sense of direction, they both would have ended up lost in some basement of this creepy hotel.

In the center of the dance floor were a circle of lit candles, flickering, though Jake was pretty sure there was no wind inside. He didn’t feel a breeze anyway. In fact, the air was deathly still. Clung to his skin like a wet blanket.

“I think I’m sweaty. Are you sweaty?” Jake rolled his shoulders.

“I never sweat.” Ellie shrugged at him. “I’m always perfectly fine with any temperature.”

That was true, now that Jake thought about it. She hadn’t complained about the heat over the summer, and she only put a sweater on when he mentioned how cold it was. Resilient little thing.

Between two candles on the farthest side of the circle perched a woman— her legs crisscrossed and hands on her knees. She had wild blue hair, pale, sunken cheeks, with bright red lips and eyes such a brilliant light-brown they nearly glowed yellow. A black shawl encircled her shoulders— her whole frame was wrapped in black, actually—and as they approached, Jake tried to pick out the tune she hummed. It wasn’t something he’d heard before. Off key. Ominous. Like a warning.

“Welcome.” She punctuated each word. Well. Come. “I am Madam Leota. Please, take a seat between the candles.”

Ellie slipped into the space nearest the door, and Jake dropped in beside her. She raised her eyebrows at him and ‘oohed’, but he rolled his eyes. He put on his best I’m-not-freaked-out-no-sir-I’d-rather-be-fishing face and leaned back onto his hands.

Ellie’s whisper tickled his ear. “Excited?”

The orange flame cast a bit of a glow on her pale, porcelain skin. Shadowed her dimples and glinted off her teeth.

“No. I’m not excited. But I can tell you are.” Jake stroked her cheek. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you blush.”

Ellie groaned. “Shut up. I don’t blush.”

“Whoa, Tiger.” Jake held up a hand in mock defense. “Deep breaths.”

“I don’t breathe either.”

Jake made a ‘what?’ face, but Ellie just stuck out her tongue. “And you shouldn’t either. At least not in here.”

Jake laughed. “Yeah. A few good breaths in this tomb and I’ll give myself Farmer’s Lung.”

“If only that was the worst of your problems.” Ellie smirked.

Jake shook his head. They hadn’t known each other long. Six months really wasn’t that long. But he loved her. Loved her, her weird obsession with death and ghosts, and all the weird crap she said sometimes. He was whipped. A goner.

A few other patrons stumbled into the dance hall and Madam Leota directed them to the circle. A couple of guys, a few girls. An elderly couple with a cotton-ball of a dog. They each made a show of examining the room. Then they all waited.

And the longer they waited, the creepier it got. Like the night was pressing in on them. Like silence was caving in on them. Like something was coming and there was no way to escape it. A bolt of lightning briefly lit the dance hall. A second later, thunder cracked. Panic clawed at Jake’s throat. He was about to ask what time it was when a loud bell tolled. Bong… Bong… Bong… All the way to twelve.

It was finally midnight.

The air shifted. Got colder. Jake told himself he was imagining things. Ellie squeezed in by his side, but it wasn’t out of fear. While the other guests huddled with terror on their faces, Ellie’s face was full of mirth. She was 100% in her element.

Madam Leota cleared her throat and raised her hands into the air. “I thank you for joining me this evening. Because you are here, I assume you all believe in communicating with the departed?”

There was a general murmur of assent. Ellie squeezed Jake’s hand and he pressed his lips together. He wouldn’t get himself kicked out for saying it was a bunch of hocus pocus. Especially not now, when it kinda felt like maybe it wasn’t.

“Very well.” Madam Leota shut her eyes. “Let us hold hands, and begin with a prayer of welcome.”

Jake laced fingers with Ellie and turned awkwardly to the guy on his right. The dude wore a scarf up over the bottom half of his face, so all Jake saw were his wide, horrified eyes. They held hands, and Jake tried to give him a squeeze of assurance. The dude nodded but his eyes remained fearful and his whole body shook. Even the cotton-ball dog trembled.

“Spirits, wherever you are, awaken to the sound of my call. Near or far, come and speak with us. We desire your wisdom. Your guidance from the Beyond.”

Leota paused. The flames of the candles crackled and a few went out. The air felt about ten degrees colder than it did a second ago.

Scarf guy started hyperventilating. He turned to Jake. “She didn’t— she didn’t—”


The scarf muffled his voice. “She didn’t ask for benevolent spirits. Or protection from— non-benevolent ones. We are so dead…”

“Listen,” Leota commanded.

A bell tinkled. Was it in the room? Someone outside the room? Jake tried to turn and look, but Ellie yanked his arm and pulled him back.

“I sense a very determined spirit among us.” Madam Leota’s gaze swept over the séance-goers until it landed on Jake. “You. Something dreadful is coming your way.”

Jake jolted back. “Me? Are you sure?”

Beside him, Ellie’s mouth dropped open but her eyes were happy. She loved this.

Madam Leota nodded. “A spirit in this room wants you dead.”

Everyone gasped (except Ellie, who made a face of trying to conceal her laughter), and Scarf guy threw his arms around Jake. “Leave! Don’t let it get you!”

Jake shrugged free of Scarf’s death-grip. “W-w-why me?”

“You believe it then?” Ellie’s face was just an inch from his.

“Not now.” Jake gently pushed her away and focused on Madam Leota. “This isn’t funny.”

“I’m not making a joke.” Madam Leota dropped the hands of those beside her and crawled over to Jake. Her breath was hot on his face and smelled of licorice. “Leave now. Or die.”

“Fine.” Jake shot up and tripped backwards towards the door.

“Run!” Scarf man screamed.

Jake tore through the caution tape and into the hall. He stubbed his toe on the damn skull-shaped door stopper and swore, but kept running. He reached a fork at the end of the hall but couldn’t for the life of him remember how to get back to the lobby. This place had no signage, no doors… Lots of windows. But he couldn’t see anything. Everything was blocked out by a heavy rain thudding against the panes of glass. That’s right— a storm had begun.

Ellie appeared beside him and rubbed his back. “Hey, you okay?”

“Uh, no.” Jake’s muscles tensed and he glared at the floor. “I was just told by a medium that some determined spirit wants me dead.”

She grinned.

“Why is that funny?” Jake folded his arms and stepped away from her.

“I just thought you said the whole thing was nonsense, so…” Ellie tipped her head. “You’re getting awfully worked up over nothing, aren’t you?”

Jake let out a frustrated sigh. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Come on.” Ellie looped her arm through Jake’s elbow and dragged him towards the left, knowing where to go, even though he was hopelessly lost. “It’s late. Let’s get some rest.”

Jake nodded to himself. It was late. They passed portrait after portrait of severe looking men and women, all staring down their noses at the couple. Jake thought, for a second he was sure, their eyes followed him as he passed. He shook his head. That woman had thrown him off. Old bat. Madam Leota was probably paid to single out guests and cast doom at them, and she just happened to focus on Jake. He was fine. No one wanted him dead… Did they?


Suite #37 resided on the first floor of guest rooms, which was actually the second story of the hotel and just three doors down from the elevators. (Jake had insisted they take the one least likely to bleed on them. Again.) He gave the hall a cursory glance, left to right, up and down. He hadn’t paid much attention when they came up earlier to unpack, but now, with the darkness complete and the waning candlesticks mounted to the walls, finding an escape route proved to be impossible. A knot formed in his stomach and his gut tightened around it— no clear EXIT signs. Anywhere.

Ellie slid the ancient gold key into the lock, twisted, and opened the door with a creek to match a crow’s caw. The room smelled like mothballs. The comforter hugged the full-sized bed, but it brought Jake no comfort— a deep maroon thing, reminiscent of the color of dried blood. More hideous wallpaper clutched the room. Bits of it pealed towards the ceiling. Jake had this terrible sense it might roll down and suffocate him in his sleep.

The room had looked much, much less intimidating before he’d gone to the séance.

Jake unzipped and rifled through his suitcase, having refused to unpack. On principle. If they wouldn’t be leaving, then he just wanted to brush his teeth and go to bed. With any luck, he could convince Ellie to leave with him in the morning. And hopefully without having to eat any innards for breakfast. Ellie dropped onto the bed and spread out. Her grin frustrated the hell out of Jake.

He entered the bathroom and closed the door behind him. The icy tiles of the floor bit into his bare feet. Air hit his face from a hole—a legit hole— in the upper corner of the room. The mirror, spotted with age, reflected a haggard Jake brushing his teeth. When did he get such deep bags under his eyes? When did he get so pale? Or his hair so… was that a gray hair???? Snap out of it, man. He scrubbed his teeth harder.

Something hissed behind him.

He whipped around.

Nothing. Maybe steam from the radiator.

Then something crawled up his leg. He jerked back and shook his legs, as a spider fell from his knee and scurried away. Stupid, ugly little thing. He hated bugs. Was terrified of them as a kid. He spit in the sink and turned on the water to rinse out his mouth. But instead of water, something red came out.

Jake gaped in disbelief. Crimson, bubbling, steaming. Was it blood? His lips curled back and shut off the faucet. Think, Jake. There’s no way that just happened. Not blood. Something else.

Jake chuckled when it hit him. Of course. This place was old. It was probably rust. Rusty water from disused pipes. Still, his hand hesitated before turning the faucet back on. What had the receptionist said about the rooms and fears? He exhaled, then turned on the water. It ran clean. There. Just had to rinse out the pipes. He pocketed his toothbrush and toweled off his mouth, as something else crawled on his neck. Damn it. He batted another spider away.

Then there were several of them. Pouring from the open hole in the ceiling. Black, fuzzy spiders, but also roaches and beetles. None of them smaller than a quarter. Were they real? Imagined? When the receptionist said ‘manifest’ did she mean in real life or his head?

“Ellie?” Jake didn’t scream, he didn’t really want to, but he did back up. He swatted left and right, trying to shake free of the bugs as they leapt from the wall towards him. They felt real. “Ellie, this place is infested!”

No response.

He brushed himself off. Picked up his feet and winced when he felt their hard shells crack under his weight. Maybe he was imaging them. They weren’t real, they weren’t real, they weren’t real. Jake opened the door and hurried out of the bathroom, slamming it behind him. He smashed a few bugs in the process. It wasn’t enough. More would come. Already a few had squeezed under the door.

“Ellie, we can’t stay here.”

Ellie was not in the room. It was dark— just a pale slice of yellow moonlight peeking through the open window, casting shadows Jake swore had fingers and were reaching for him. Had she left while he was brushing his teeth? He called for her but again, there was no answer. He hadn’t heard the door open. Where would she go anyway?

“Ellie?” Jake’s heart thudded in his chest. His mouth went dry as he tiptoed through the room towards the window. The bugs skittered along with him. “Ellie?”

“I’m right here.”

Jake’s hand shot to his chest and he swore. “Where the hell were you hiding?”

Ellie stood behind him, glowing faintly in the moonlight. “I wasn’t. I’ve been here the whole time.”

“No.” Jake straightened to his full height. “You were gone. I came out of the bathroom and—”

“Jake. I never left. Cross my heart.” Her pale face and eyes seemed… almost translucent. Like he could see through her.

“We need to go.” Jake grabbed the suitcase and zipped it up. “There are bugs crawling all over that bathroom— here look— and I swear, I’m seeing things. Blood in the faucet and moving eyes in the pictures— come on, don’t make that face. I tried. I did what you wanted, but I can’t stay here another minute. Let’s go.”

Ellie sighed. “But we just got home.”

Jake was halfway to the door when his steps halted. “Here.” He turned to face her. “You mean we just got here.”

The bugs’ ticking-creeping noises filled the silence. He still wasn’t sure if they were real or in his head.

“I said what I meant.” Ellie’s normally sweet smile turned a bit darker.

Jake stiffened. Ellie didn’t appear to be translucent. She was translucent. He saw right through her. To the window ripe with moonlight. To the bugs swarming the carpet. Right to the sharpened knife she held behind her back.

“What are you doing?” Jake backed up. Bugs crunched under his feet. He had to find the doorknob.

This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.

“Come on, Jake.” Ellie stepped, or floated, towards him. Her feet were missing. “This is all I’ve wanted since we met. To bring you home with me.”

“All those haunted places.” The puzzle pieces slipped into Jake’s mind, found their places among each other, and festered like an unremoved splinter. She never ate. Never got hot or cold, never got lost. Never talked about a living family— just about where to find dead people. Now, he saw right through her.

Ellie was the spirit Madam Leota had warned him about.

“Why me?” Jake still couldn’t find the doorknob. He didn’t dare turn away from her to find it. Somehow, getting stabbed in the back literally would suck so much worse than just being stabbed… but to be honest, he didn’t want to be stabbed at all. Not by his girlfriend. Why hadn’t he trusted his gut?

“Why you? I love you.” Ellie laughed and brought the knife in front of her chest, close to her un-beating heart. Those two things— laughing and imminent death?— should not have gone together. Ever. “I’ve told you so many times. Dying can be so lonely. The Afterlife shouldn’t have to be. I just wanted someone to share my Afterlife with.”

“But I’m a skeptic!” Jake tripped backwards and landed against the door with a crash. His head stung. The bugs crawled up his legs and into his shirt. His body trembled. He couldn’t think beyond the tiny feet all over his body, the pincers breaking his skin, the girl he loved holding a knife to her chest. Why bugs? Why blood? Why Ellie?

She tipped her head. “You believe now, right?”

It was hard not to. Jake didn’t want to beg. He didn’t want to plead for his life. But he also didn’t want to die. “Ellie, please.”

She held the knife high above her head and grinned down at him. “Welcome to the hotel, babe.”


About the Author

Jamie Rusovick-SmithJamie was born in southern California, 1988. She blames her birth year for her awkward taste in clothing and inability to dance unless it’s choreographed by someone else.

In college, she had a full scholarship to study Theater Arts, but changed her major to Library Information Technology after she got sick of the drama in drama.

She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband (when he’s not on rig), four children, and pet rabbit Bugsy. (Although they’re debating getting a pet fox and a pug, to be named Sherlock and Watson.)

When she’s not homeschooling, working, reading or writing, Jamie can be found shaking her groove thing in a Zumba class, sweating and cursing life in Pi-Yo, or baking cupcakes.