Welcome to day FOUR 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 the deepest corners and shadows of the Thornewood…the basement!
It’s the smell that gets to you first. It burns the inside of the nostrils a bit going in, and settles its rancidness on the inside and you think it’ll get into your blood and you’ll never get it off again. Sweet like rotting meat, tinged with the dankness of the basement. Nobody’s cleaned this basement in a long time. Not even the janitor, who must brave the carcass of this morbid beast of a room, dares go far beyond her short trek to and from the boiler.
We all know what happens when the boiler is forgotten about.
The quiet abandonment, with the soft cobwebs and collected deleterious of decades long antiquated, are what makes this place the perfect place to hide. Jack Nelson is hiding. He’s crammed into a corner, admiring a cluster of mold as the closest thing to a personal garden he’s ever had. He isn’t sure what it’s growing on, but he is sure he’d rather not know. Especially if it’s poisonous to breathe. Sometimes it better to not know.
There’s a storm going on outside. Not a terrible one, yet, but the soft one with gentle rain and promising winds. It’s fall, but not even the crispness of fall can penetrate these walls.
Jack looks at the wound in his leg. He did a bad job of patching it last night, after collapsing here at the Thornewood Hotel. The place is tucked away on the outside of nowhere, but he heard about it from another inmate. Great place to lay low, that’s what he was told.
The bites in his leg are ugly, and starting to fester. Dark bruises line the punctures, yellow ooze is starting to come up from the ragged bits, and angry lines are beginning to arch up into the veins. He doesn’t dare even poke at the places where chunks of his flesh were ripped out. They’re covered by thick blackened blood and he’s not going to risk them bleeding again. It was hard enough to get the bleeding to stop.
“Damn,” he says.
Jack stands, weak with hunger and fatigue. He can’t put all of his weight on his left leg, and can only limp severely.
“Igor, master,” he jokes half-heartedly. He laughs once, and the harsh sound is lost among the other deteriorating artifacts. “Fuck.”
He has to stop, and sit on a rickety desk. He hasn’t even crossed half the basement, yet. Cold sweat trickles down his spine, and he accidentally places a hand in a cobweb. At least, he hopes it’s an abandoned cobweb. Jack looks down, then jerks his hand away with a shout, and smashes the spider with his other hand.
“Fuck,” he repeats, staring at the back of his hand, where the skin is so thin he can see his bones and veins below. It didn’t bite. He rubs the back of his hand on the side of his pants anyway, as though that would scrub venom even if he had been bitten.
Nothing around him looks like it might help him walk. And he’s seen wounds fester before. It gets a lot worse, and it doesn’t get better.
“Middle of nowhere giant-ass hotel,” he whispers, to hear himself speak, so the sound can push back the silence. But in that silence, he still only dares whisper. It’s childish to think there might be something else here he might wake, and silly to think his voice will carry to any corner of the 666 roomed behemoth in whose belly he now lurks. “Middle of nowhere giant hotel. They’ve got to have emergency aid. They’ve got to.”
It’s not like he has a better plan.
Jack bites his cheek, and braces himself for the inevitable, then surges forward and keeps going. Because there’s no other place to go. Even at the stairs, he realizes there’s nowhere else to go. Jack sits down on the first step, uses his arms and good leg to push himself up to the next, and drag his wounded leg behind him. He knows he’d never make it if he tried to stand. The cold sweat turns into a dripping as the exertion begins to wear at him.
Something crashes in the darkness of the basement, and Jack freezes. He can swear he can hear something breathing.
“No,” he tells himself. “No, it’s the AC, or the open window.” He knows damn well it isn’t. No air stirs down here, it’s like even the AC was scared to breathe.
The air suddenly turns humid and hot. The mugginess presses in on him and the walls almost bend in, and out.
“No, no, no,” he repeats, and pushes himself to move faster. He finally hits the door, and fumbles for the nob. The door opens, and spills him out gracelessly onto the floor. He tries to kick the door closed so fast, he slams it on his bad foot. Jack smothers his scream with both hands, and just breathes as the pain comes in waves and barely ebbs. When he can move again, Jack has to grab his leg, and pull it free, and then shut the door.
The darkness behind it seems to sigh contently.
Jack drops his head on the floor, and stares up at the ceiling. “Fuck,” he says again, and lightly hits his head back down on the floor twice. Finally, he rolls over, crawls to a decorative table, and uses the table to pull himself him.
“Who the fuck are you?” Jack turns around to face a woman pushing a cart. The door she just came out of swings shut behind her.
“Um,” Jack says. “A guest. I got lost, and fell down some stairs. I’m from room thirty-nine. Neville. Smith.”
The waitress looks him up and down, and doesn’t believe him. She pulls out a phone. Jack grabs the vase on the table and slams it down on her head. She falls to the ground and doesn’t move.
“Sorry,” he tells the unconscious woman, “I’m not going back.” Jack looks at her uniform, and has his filthy prison garb. He’s taller than her, but he’s so emaciated it might fit.
Not for morals, but he knows he just won’t be strong enough to move her and get the uniform. But he takes the cart, leaning on it gratefully, and throws off the metal cover.
Without a thought, Jack crams the first thing into his mouth; then shouts. Cautiously, he reaches in and pulls a toothpick out of his gums. He spits out blood, and removes the toothpick from the next little finger sandwich before cramming it into his mouth and swallowing it almost without chewing. He takes the entire tray and sinks to the ground, shoving the elegant little things into his mouth. It’s only by the fifth or sixth that he even notices that some of them are egg salad and some are turkey.
“Shit,” he says, dropping one of the egg salads. His hands are shaking. Mayonnaise always makes him sick. He goes through the tray and throws the rest of the egg salad ones against the far wall. Like it’ll make a difference.
Jack tries to eat another turkey sandwich, and his stomach starts to cramp. He drops the food, and clutches his stomach, wishing he could just vomit and get it over with. But it’s never that easy.
Jack uses the cart to pull himself up, and stares at the other trays: strawberries dipped in chocolate, lemon bars, olives with some kind of fancy cheese stuffed into it. If he tries to eat any of it before the mayonnaise runs its course, it’s just going to make him hurt more. He wonders if he should try to hide the unconscious woman, but he knows he can’t move her even if he tried.
“No blood,” he groans. But maybe he didn’t hit her as hard as he thought he had? Jack looks down at his leg. Blood has seeped from his wound right through his pants, and starts to trickle to the floor.
He doesn’t see any bloody footprints.
He doesn’t see where he spat the blood from the toothpick on the floor.
But the wood is dark, and his vision is fuzzy in his state. It’s hard to focus on small details.
Jack uses the cart to walk, and goes back the way the waitress had come. Maybe he’ll get really lucky, and not run into anyone else. Find something that screams something other than “fugitive,” and blend in. Lay low. Get some food that doesn’t hurt. Get out of here alive.
There’s some big deal going on. People are running everywhere trying to get ready for some kind of event, something to celebrate the Thornewood Hotel’s Grand Re-opening. It seems it was shut down fifty-odd years ago after someone went on a killing spree, and the new owner is re- opening. The place has been polished, all the crevices rubbed down, the dust and cobwebs are gone.
“Where are you taking that?” A tall, official woman asks.
“Um,” Jack says, “the kitchen. This weird person jumped out of nowhere and ate the sandwiches. So I am getting more.”
“Again? These people are just bizarre,” she sighs, pressing a hand against her forehead. Then she realizes he wasn’t moving. “The kitchen is that way,” she snaps, pointing. “God damned half-way house workers. Why the fuck did Josie think it was a good idea to hire all the homeless drug users in town. What do we look like? A charity?”
“I…I’m…” As he tries to think of something smart to say, he notices a spot of the wall. With all the rest of the pristine interior, that spot is standing out:
“Shut up. You’re lucky my boss has a good heart. You are disgusting. And what did you do to your uniform?”
“I lost it?” Jack says.
“This is a Romance convention. Not a horror convention, you must have gotten the details all mixed up with Hartford’s Monster Con. That’s one town over.” She shouts at him the way people shout at someone who doesn’t speak English, under the strange belief that shouting will make them magically understand another language.
“I’m…sorry. Very sorry,” Jack says.
“Whatever. Get changed. And please shower, you smell like the south side of a sewer.” Without another glance at him, she hurries off with her nose deep into her phone. Jack heads toward the kitchen. Sure enough, there are spare uniforms. He grabs one and holds it limply, and grabs a broom to use as a poor man’s crutch.
“Sorry,” he asks the closest person who doesn’t look like he’d shout at Jack. The man looks up from a game he was playing on the phone. “Is there a place I can shower? I’m one of the…the charity cases I guess.”
“Ah, run into Cissy? She’s a,” he makes a gesture with his hand that Jack doesn’t understand, but is clearly an insult. “You know?”
“Blonde? Tall?” Jack asks.
“Walks like a stick in her ass? That’s her. I’m Carl.”
“Larry,” Jack says in the space of Carl’s suggestive pause.
“Nice to meet you Larry. Here, go to room three. Bunch of us are using it as a break room. Because she likes to walk in on us in the actual break room, and gets mad when we’re smoking or something.”
Room 003 is empty, but has the remains of snacks, cigarettes, and booze. Despite the emptiness, Jack can’t escape the feeling the walls have eyes and ears. He shudders. Carl gave him a crutch from First Aid, so Jack could ditch the cart. He can’t smell himself, but he’s not surprised he smells like a sewer. He’s not sure what was in that creek he fell into while running, but it sure was more than water. All the runoff of society collects in creeks like those, and society doesn’t have pretenses by then.
He showers quickly, unnerved by the feeling someone is watching him.
There’s more black mold in the corner of the bathroom. He swears there’s more of it after his shower than there was before he got into the shower.
“No,” he decides. “No, no, no.” Jack decides he’s just tired. And hurt.
So he lies down on the bed. It’s too hot. Sweat gleams on his skin, even so soon after a shower. His stomach is still in pain, and he thinks he might vomit soon. Get the misery over with. That’s why he’s hot. It’s not because the room is hot, in fall, in Connecticut. During a storm.
Then who turned on the AC?
Jack looks up at the vent, and listens to the air coming in. Someone else thought it was hot. The rain is pounding on the window, the small storm having turned fierce. Jack stands and walks to the window, and presses his palm against the glass.
Jack drags a chair to the vent and stands on it, holding his hand up to the breeze. It’s also freezing.
“The people. Too many people for the Grand Opening. Big party, lots of warm bodies. That’s all.”
He fervently hopes that’s all.
Jack drops to the ground as his stomach suddenly churns. He doubles in pain, and vomits up blood and barely digested sandwiches.
At least he didn’t eat that much.
Jack spits, clutching his stomach and wondering if he accidentally ate another toothpick. And stares at the pile of sick. The blood vanishes, and gets absorbed into the floor.
“Fuck,” Jack says. “Oh, fuck.”
Jack reaches to the wound in his leg, and pulls back his hand when it’s damp with fresh blood. He presses the blood down onto the white carpet, and watches carefully as it is absorbed. He presses more blood against the wall, and again it’s absorbed.
Jack looks up, and there’s more black mold in the corners near the ceiling.
“Of all the damned places to hide!” He shouts. He knows better than most people the types of creatures that lurk in the dark crevices, out of sight of polite society.
The hotel is waking up. Jack crashed in her basement, bleeding like a stuck pig, and she tasted it in her sleep and now she’s waking up.
“A Blood House. A fucking Blood House. Fuck.” All that mold, he should have known. Or maybe he did know, but didn’t want to believe.
Jack can’t stay here. He shouldn’t have eaten the food, but thanks his allergy for making him puke it up again. He can’t sleep, or he might not wake up again. The woman he knocked unconscious is probably dead. If she didn’t get up fast enough, she’s dead.
And all those people coming for the Grand Opening, eating to their heart’s content.
Jack pulls himself to his feet, grabs his crutch and heads toward the nearest emergency exit.
Freezing to death is better than this. Blood Houses don’t just take your life, they hold onto your soul until Judgment Day. It ain’t pretty.
He throws the door open, and is almost thrown to the ground.
The wind is howling, and the storm comes in. He’s drenched and shivering in a moment. He stumbles forward, and gets six steps until he realizes that his old prison guards have found him.
“Fuck,” he cries.
Almost as one, the eight things turn to face him, and he drops his hand to the wounds in his leg as the feeling of being strapped to their table comes back to him. As the feeling of their teeth sinking into his flesh comes back to him.
“Hello, Jack,” one of them croons. “I see you’ve prepared quite the feast for us.”
The Demons don’t know what kind of house this is, she has been sleeping the last fifty years after all, and Jack very suddenly has a glimmer of hope. When it comes to Demons against Blood Houses, the Houses win. If they’re stupid enough to follow him back inside, he might have a prayer of getting out the other side. Alive. He might live through this nightmare after all. The Blood House will be more drawn to their dark power, and she might not notice Jack escaping.
“Hello,” he whispers. “Pussies,” he insults. The insult works: they’re angry. He staggers back inside, shuts and bolts the door. It won’t stop them for long, but maybe just long enough.
“Hey, Larry, I came to check up on you and…” Carl’s voice trails off as he saunters from the direction of room 003. “What are you–“
“We need to go, now.”
The Demons slam their fists on the door, the metal buckles. Carl swears, looks at Jack, and then swiftly picks him up and starts running.
“You’re too slow on that thing.”
“I am not complaining,” Jack replies. The door flies open, but Carl has already turned the corner.
“Where we going?” Carl asks.
“Out the back door. And pull a fire alarm, we need to get these people out.”
“There,” Carl says. He stops by the red alarm, and Jack pulls it. The siren goes off, and Jack prays that people get out. That someone gets out. That they haven’t been eating. Food gets infected first, and infects the brain when you eat too much of it.
Carl and Jack go through the door to the foyer, and Carl drops Jack in pure shock. Jack screams as he lands on his leg, and the blood gets absorbed by the tile floors.
“Dios!” Carl says, crossing himself.
“Don’t eat anything,” Jack says. “This house is Evil, and the food has been poisoned.” Carl mutely shakes his head, staring at the mass of people. They’ve descended into a feeding frenzy. They break their teeth on the furniture, tear apart each other for meat. The food on the tables is mostly gone.
But Jack suddenly feels this urge to cram even the crumbs in his mouth. Even though he knows the more you eat, the greater the House’s power. He couldn’t eat more earlier, because he was too sick in his stomach. But the sickness is gone now, and he can’t remember the last time he ate anything. He’s so hungry, too hungry.
“Carl, please don’t let me eat anything.”
“What? You crazy, man? How can you be hungry?” Carl looks down at Jack and swears in Spanish. “Man, you don’t look good.”
“I’m not. I ate some food earlier, and I puked most of it up. But it’s…it’s…oh, I’m so hungry. It’s just a crumb. It’s just one little slice of cake.”
Jack starts to crawl towards the nearest thing, a stepped on carrot. Carl runs up and kicks it away. Then picks Jack up again, and turns around.
“We’re not going through that,” Carl says.
Jack bites the inside of his cheek so hard he tastes blood. He suddenly had the urge to bite Carl’s neck, and he’s scared he might. He covers his mouth with his free hand.
Carl starts to run, but the eight Demons show up. They smile, and their teeth look so deceptively normal.
“Isn’t this an interesting feast?” one of them asks. But the voice doesn’t come from the Demon who moves his lips.
The mass of people are silent. The sudden quiet hits Jack harder than a truck. They’ve stopped eating, and face the eight Demons.
The Demons falter.
“FEAST!” The crowd of over eight hundred says with one voice. “FEASTFEASTFEAST.”
“Run,” Jack whispers through his hand. Carl doesn’t need another invitation. He surges off to the side as the frenzied crowd charges the Demons. Jack closes his eyes, hand still clamped over his own mouth, as Carl runs.
And suddenly rain pelts him again, and the urge to bite is gone. Carl keeps running for a few dozen feet.
“Are we safe?”
“Outside of the hotel, yes. Unless you eat something that was inside the hotel, because the food can’t be made good again. The Demons won’t get out of there, they can’t follow us.”
“All those people!” Carl says something in Spanish that might have been a prayer. He sets Jack down on a log. Jack shudders. There’s nothing that can be done for those people now. Even if the Thornewood Hotel was razed, the people are bound to it. Things like that never die. Its essence will compel someone else to build on the same site, and remake its body for it.
There’s no reason to tell Carl that.
Jack closes his eyes. He’s still so hungry. Not the infected hungry, but the regular hungry. To make him weak, the Demons starved him. To make his flesh delicious, they frightened him. They goaded him with hope, because there’s nothing like squashed hope and terror to flavor meat. He got away because they weren’t as good at quashing his hope as they thought they would be. They hadn’t realized the Thornewood Hotel was a Blood House.
Jack finally starts to smile, faintly. He rubs a hand over his groaning stomach, and supposes he’s so used to fighting hunger that maybe that’s another reason the House didn’t infect him as much as the others.
The loud crunch of an apple send a bolt of terror right through him. “Shit,” Jack cries.
He turns his head, to look at Carl. Carl eats the apple, core and stem, and licks the juices from his fingers.
And suddenly turns to look at Jack.
About the Author Clarissa west
I live in Salt Lake City, and collect swords and typewriters.