Welcome to day seven 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 #214!
Andrea didn’t believe in ghosts.
Daniel had insisted on the Thornewood Hotel for their anniversary, claiming he decided on it because of the history of the city and the ambiance of the hotel. A few seconds on Google had confirmed her suspicions. It was supposed to be haunted. With at least three separate spirits reported over the years, it was a major destination for people like Daniel: supernaturalists or whatever he preferred to be called this month.
She sighed and sipped her drink at the hotel bar, then glanced at her husband, sitting on the other side of the room with a man and woman who, like him, believed in that crap. It was almost like they had an invisible sign on their foreheads or some code to their clothes, the way they found each other. The pattern was always the same: he went off to talk with the ‘true believers’ and left her to whatever she decided to do.
The moment Andrea finished her drink, she left the bar. That was the last place she wanted to spend the evening, drinking away all the feelings that inevitably came up on their anniversary.
“You should check out our complementary spa,” a voice said from behind her. She turned—her corporate lawyer’s poker face in place—to find a young woman wearing a black hotel blazer, a grey calf-length skirt, and a name tag identifying her as Maria. Andrea arched an eyebrow at the presumptuous girl, and tried not to grind her teeth at being told what to do. The last time she’d let that happen, it had resulted in her marriage and look where that had gotten her. Stuck with the child of her parents’ best friends for the rest of her life, largely because she couldn’t bear the drama that leaving him would cause.
“You know what I should do, do you?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Oh dear god, had this child really called her that? Her frown deepened, but Maria went on, undeterred. “I only thought you would enjoy it. It’s just down those stairs.”
“Thanks,” Andrea said, deciding she would do no such thing. For a moment, she considered going back to their room, but then she saw Daniel heading toward the elevator, gesticulating wildly with the others from the bar. There was no way she’d risk having to spend time with them. Especially when Daniel routinely introduced her as his ‘heretic’ in such situations.
She headed to the stairwell and descended, wanting to put the greatest possible distance between them. The first floor down from the lobby listed office numbers on the legend, the second smelled of laundry. When she went through the door at the base of the stairs on the third basement level, Andrea found a long corridor that ran in either direction. There were no other doors.
Footsteps on the stairs above her echoed down, getting louder with every second. Hands over her ears, she stepped through the door and let it fall closed behind her. The noise stopped and she breathed a sigh of relief.
She took a few steps down the hall, then stopped. The hall either came to a dead end or turned, but she couldn’t tell which. She glanced back and saw the other way was the same. And that the door was gone.
“Ha ha, very funny,” she called out. “The tourists who come here for this sort of crap must love it. My husband certainly would, but I don’t.”
The wall didn’t react to her words.
Overhead, the lights flickered.
“Look, if you don’t let me out of here, I promise you won’t enjoy the lawsuit for false imprisonment I’ll file against this hotel,” she snapped. “I’ll own it and bulldoze it before I’m through with you.”
Laughter filled the air, a chorus of it. Andrea looked behind her, then in front again. The hallway before her wasn’t empty anymore. There was a figure. A man. Maybe. Something was wrong with it, though she couldn’t tell what at this distance. Its shape was wrong, that’s all she could say for certain. And she definitely didn’t want to get closer.
Instead, she ran her hands along the wall where she thought the door had been. The white wall was the same along its length, paint-coated cement blocks. Frustrated, she looked around, wanting to know what the hotel’s people were up to before one of them jumped out to give her a scare.
The figure was gone now, a dark smudge on the grey floor the only evidence that it had ever been there. Makeup or whatever they had covered that poor person in to make them seem so oddly formed, she told herself. Yet she was more relieved than she should have been.
She looked the other way, expecting some other mock-horrific sight. Nothing was there, so she moved in that direction, sweeping her hands around on the wall, determined to find the door so she could tell the manager off. At length. Yet the wall remained unbroken.
She wasn’t worried though. She most definitely was not even a bit anxious.
Thinking she might have gotten turned around, Andrea checked the opposite wall, but found it too was unyielding. Growling and swearing, she turned to find the hallway wasn’t empty anymore.
Ice ringed the hallway a dozen feet away, climbing the walls in a band a foot wide at least. Except ice didn’t—couldn’t—form that fast. There were shards of it growing outward from the surface of the wall like opaque crystals. She shook her head, unable to process this impossible sight.
The crystals shattered with a loud crack. She flinched once, then again when spiders began pouring out of the broken chunks of ice. She stared in horror, certain they were growing bigger even as she tried to deny the idea. Living creatures didn’t grow before your eyes, except in the worst sort of horror movies.
Like the ones where doors disappeared after you went through them.
She moved backward, one pace, then two. Her foot banged into something, and she tried to remain upright, arms wheeling, even as she found herself unable to look away from the chihuahua-sized spiders bearing down on her. Overbalanced on her high heels, she fell backward with a cry, and her head banged off the floor just as she registered the mangled corpse her legs were draped across.
The lights flickered more, and a confetti-spray of colors covered her vision. For a moment, confusion smothered her thoughts. Then one broke through: Flee.
She tried to pull her legs back from the corpse, only to find it was gone. So were the spiders, and the ice they’d come from. Tears of relief streamed down her face as her heart raced.
A foul odor assaulted her only a second before her hair, fallen loose from her usual bun, was grabbed by strong fingers. Laughter burbled up from somewhere behind her, clittering through the air the way the spiders had done across the floor.
“I’ve got you now. My very own plaything after all these years.”
The dark glee in that wet, sloppy voice stole her own, closing her throat against the scream she wanted to let out, one they’d surely hear all the way up in the lobby. She twisted, terrified to see what had her but unable to bear having only that voice and smell. Whatever it was, dark, oily residue covered it, coating even the wild, ragged hair that was shorn from one side of the head. Torn, shapeless clothes gave no hint of gender, and neither did the face, too deformed and half rotted under the black goo for anything but causing nightmares.
Her mind seized on this idea. Yes, she must have gone upstairs after all, or found a comfortable chair and fallen asleep. And of course she couldn’t remember having done so because you never did when you were dreaming. Or having a soul-rending nightmare like this.
“Oh, my sweet, this isn’t any dream. You’re awake and I’ll have so much fun proving that to you. They’ll never find so much as a shred of you when I’m done.”
The voice that rang out was everything her captor wasn’t. It was human. In that one word, there was more sanity than in this oily creature’s entire being. And above all, it had to be her salvation, if only because one more word from it would enable her to look away from the way one eye drooped into where the thing’s cheek should be.
“Release her!” The words came with a faint southern flavoring. She longed to see the owner, but the monster held her so tight that she thought her scalp was on fire.
“Let her go now. I won’t ask again.”
She heard a booted foot take a step, the sound echoing around the corridor, reminding her of something that slipped out of her grasp before she could identify it. The hand in her hair loosened, then vanished, though the burning didn’t stop. What was that black stuff on it, acid? The thing began to shriek, so loud Andrea thought her eardrums would burst.
Tears stung her eyes, of relief and terror both. She scrambled toward the voice, the ever-so-human voice of her rescuer. A strong, warm and, above all, real hand grabbed hers and pulled her to her feet. She had a brief impression of a man with stubble on his face and bright blue eyes, then she was pushed through the same door she’d come in through, and into the bottom landing. It thunked shut, and the shrieking stopped.
Hands grasped her shoulders, but they were his. Her rescuer’s. “Are you all right? They didn’t harm you?”
She couldn’t answer. She only sobbed, and his arms wrapped around her. He rocked her for a moment, the way she’d always dreamed a man might when she’d been a girl reading romance novels and watching movies.
“We should get you away from here,” he said, releasing her.
When she looked up at him, those eyes, those ice blue eyes, stopped anything she might have wanted to ask about him. She could only nod and mumble, “My room?”
He considered, then smiled. It was wide and showed a lot of white teeth. They walked up to the lobby together, then got into an elevator that opened as they arrived. She wanted to speak, to ask how he’d found her, how he’d made that thing let go of her, and most importantly, had he seen what she’d seen? Yet she was too tired to form the words. Too much terror, perhaps the after effect of too much adrenaline.
Only when she reached into the pocket of her suit jacket for her key did she think of Daniel. What if he was in their room? How would she explain this man, or how disheveled she looked? Worse, how could she make him leave her alone instead of interrogating her endlessly about her encounter with… No, it couldn’t have been a ghost, because those weren’t real.
“I’m here with you. No one will bother you, Andrea.”
She looked up at him, at last taking a good look at her rescuer. He was taller than her, but only just. Lean, with a few faint scars on his face and hands, Brown hair tumbled down the back of his neck and across his forehead in waves. His eyes continued to draw hers like magnets.
“Thank you. You saved me from… From something and I don’t even know your name.”
“Marcus Adams, and I’m only glad I arrived in time. The ghosts in this hotel can be quite nasty.”
His accent was stronger now, more southern, though she couldn’t quite place it.
She turned to focus on opening the door so she wouldn’t stare. “Don’t tell me you really believe in that nonsense, Mr. Adams. In ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night?”
“Please, call me Marcus. And don’t you? After what you just experienced, surely you must.”
His voice had become colder, like the first frost of the fall, there and gone before you’ve done more than notice it, but she brushed it off and opened the door. She walked into the room, grateful for the dark and the silence, for the safety of the marginally familiar surroundings. She turned on the light. “I don’t mean to belittle you, Marcus. It’s just that ghost stories are meant to frighten children and I stopped being a child a long time ago. And that’s all they are: stories, despite what people like my husband would have you believe.”
The door chunked closed behind them. His hand rested on her shoulder, which went abruptly numb. She glanced back, first at his fingers, then turned to look into his face. Those cold, blue eyes searched hers, and he wasn’t smiling anymore.
“So you will refuse what you experienced, refuse to learn from it?”
She blinked and tried to pull away. His fingers tightened, and his other hand grabbed her upper arm, causing that to also go dead, all the way down to her fingers. She wanted to scream, but her vocal chords wouldn’t respond.
“We tried to show you, to give you a chance, Andrea. But now that’s passed. You can’t come into our house, disrespect us with such disbelief and expect to get away with it. It’s just not done, sweetness.”
The face before her flickered, the flesh vanishing to reveal a skull with cold blue light dancing in the eye sockets. The skull laughed as it pulled her in closer with skeletal arms. Her heart thudded once, hard enough to spread pain through her chest, then it slowed. The numbness reached her lungs, but in her mind, she screamed as the light consumed her.