Welcome to day twenty of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!
Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #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.)
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.
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.
“DEATH COMES FOR YOU, ANA GLORIANA FLORES. SHE COMES AND DEMANDS HER DEBT TO BE REPAID.”
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 – “
“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
You can find Debbie Oliveira on Twitter @debbiekolive.