Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

Welcome to day twenty-eight 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 #128.

Thornewood Hotel 128

 

The Legend of Thornewood

 

The Legend of Thornewood 128

 

Medium:

Pencil, ink, charcoal, & scratches on paper

Original: 9 x 13.25

 
 

About the Artist & author

Erica Secor FaceErica Secor writes middle grade horror and nonfiction humor. She frequently uses storyboarding to plot her novels. She has worked in higher education since 2006 and currently teaches with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. She is a chapter leader for the NonFiction Writers Association, writes for Authors Publish Magazine, and is a contributing member of The Midnight Society.

Erica grew up across from a graveyard near Buffalo, NY. Now, she lives with her husband and two dogs in South Carolina. Learn more at her website or on Twitter @TheDavisGirl.


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

Welcome to day twenty-seven 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 the residents’ bar!

Thornewood-Hotel-bar

 

“So what’ll it be, sir?”

The barman leans towards me with a smile: his blue eyes and his strong jaw remind me of the boyish looks I once had. But then again, everything reminds me of the past in some way. Every. Little. Thing.

I shake my head and he raises an eyebrow as if to ask if I’m sure, but he’s already started to move his way along the empty bar and leave me to my misery.

But I think the better of it.

“I’ll have a whiskey sour.” He nods. “Make it a double whiskey.”

“I’ll need your room number, sir. Resident’s only at this time.”

He tosses a look back at the ornate clock that hangs behind the bar, a large art-deco affair, each tick of which seems to fill the bar with an ominous tick. Or maybe the tick is just the blood rushing through my body, still pumping in my ears after the argument I’ve just had.

I show him the room key, but he doesn’t pay much attention to the number: he just needs to see that I’m meant to be here and he’s not going to be fired for serving me in this hallowed place. Despite the clock, time doesn’t move in a place like this. Once you have the room, they have the booze; once you keep the cash coming, they’ll keep refilling the glasses.

He moves around the bar to prepare my drink, glancing back at me every few moments. I can’t tell if he’s judging me or trying to read me. Maybe it’s both.

“I’ve only ever been asked to double the whiskey once before. And that didn’t end well.”

“I don’t really care.” The words snap out of my mouth unexpectedly. Do I actually mean that, or am I just still bitter and sore? “It’s already over anyway.”

“Relationship trouble?”

It’s not his job to ask these questions: that’s what we paid the marriage counsellor for. But yeah, that didn’t work and I’m now at the stage where barmen and barbers are more interested in my relationship than my own wife.

No, she’s not my wife: she hasn’t been my wife in five years, not since the first time she slept with him then confessed everything to me, real tears and real words covering up those fake emotions. Since then, I’ve learned every one of her tricks: the working late, the long weekends with the girls, those nights when she just wasn’t in the mood.

“It’s not really a relationship any more. It’s over.”

There’s more noise from the other side of the bar, metal and glass clicking and touching like an industrial process in the making.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Were you together long?”

That youthful face says everything. This man, this guy, this kid, he’s from a generation that’s used to choosing their words carefully, not making assumptions about my relationship issues. Man or woman, wife or mistress, married or still mildly flirting.

And like you do with every bartender and barber, I open up. I share the whole story.

“We’re married twenty years, but there’s someone else. There has been for a while. I’ve given her everything, a home, kids, a life.” I lean back and look around the lounge, wondering if there’s anyone else around to share in my sorrows. I don’t need to find myself a one-night stand; I don’t even need to strike up conversation. I just want to drink myself into oblivion and have someone who will nod and smile along to every heartache that I share.

“We came here to put things right. We came here to make it all better.”

The barman nods and he smiles with that weird emotion, that mix of pity and understanding. He places a glass in front of me, a short glass of orange and white and yellow, a glass that should be comfort and warmth and escape.

I put my hand on this glass, ready to drink and his eyes light up, as if waiting for confirmation of a job well done.

“Can you believe that we came here to put things straight, to put it all between us? It was even her idea.” I look deep into this powerful, understanding blue eyes.

“She’s been here before. She’s been in that room before. With him. This isn’t about making it better; it’s about making it final.”

I take the glass and I drink. I drink as much of it as I can and I let it burn my throat. It burns all the way down, far more heat than sweet. Maybe it was a bad idea to double the whiskey? I don’t know: I’ve only had this drink twice before, such a long time ago that it was a lifetime away.

I realise then my regrets: this is her drink, not mine. She introduced me to the whiskey sour on our honeymoon, something that made her feel warm and comfortable. So why would I ask for this drink now? So I still want that connection to her? Even after everything she’s done to me?

I cough. That whiskey burns already, more than it should. Maybe it’s just because I doublet it up, maybe it’s because I wanted comfort and all I remember is heartburn.

But no heartburn has ever felt quite like this, never so intense.

I reach for another glass, a water that he offers without being asked, a glass that takes forever to empty and does nothing to soothe this pain. If anything, this just adds to the burning in my throat.

“It’ll be over soon.”

I look at his blue eyes and they look so familiar, so welcoming that there’s a reason this man-child makes me so comfortable. He reminds me of a four-year old boy at home, a child I’ve called my son, a child with blue eyes and a strong jaw.

He’s not my son.

The burning is intense now, and I drink some more water, but it’s no relief. My mouth is running and when I spit back into the glass, the water turns red with my own blood.

When I look at the barman, he smiles, but this is not a welcoming smile. There is a devious threat there, and I know now that was no ordinary cocktail.

“She doesn’t just want a divorce, Mike. She just wants you gone. You get that, right?”

The bar, the barman, the cocktail, everything fades to white as I cough again, as I feel my throat fill with blood.

 

About the Author

Ken-MooneyKen Mooney was born in Dublin in the middle of the 1980s; he still lives there. He holds a degree in English Studies from TCD, which he totally uses every day during his day-job in TV advertising…totally.

He’s always been obsessed with stories, reading, writing and playing them; that explains the massive collection of books, comics, video games and discarded Word documents. His writing is a combination of all the things that he’s passionate about, all the way through high-and-low-brow.

Twitter

Ken on Amazon


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

Welcome to day twenty-six 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 #04!

Thornewood Hotel 04

She couldn’t contain the desire within her anymore like an animal wanting to break free, and that was when she found him. Sophie Roberts traveled to the Thornewood that day of her own accord, ignoring the stares and whispers following her out of town. She knew the stories, heard of them from the gossips in surrounding towns on her walks for water and supplies. The dead and unnatural not only lived in the infamous hotel in the middle of the New England countryside, but also controlled it. The beings were always driving out or imprisoning its living tenants in a war of violence and seduction that shook everyone to their very cores.

They said the 666 rooms were the cause of the chaos; the seven stories didn’t alleviate the evil within. Minor case studies of flying chairs escalated to vampires and werewolves raping the women and wives that occupied their spaces, the legends of mummies dragging witnesses of murder to their graves to bury their secrets and even a case of a dancer transforming to dying flesh and bones after teaching children how to do the waltz. She was always seen bribing the parents beforehand so they could be alone for a few hours and to keep them from knowing the truth.

If only the living stopped building rooms at 600, or less.

Sophie’s cobalt cloak over her long periwinkle dress swayed in the breeze that morning, twirling small cyclones of leaves against the side of the carriage. She wasn’t a descendant of any scorned ancestor nor drawn into the occult as mischievous youth were at her age. Thankfully, accusations of witchcraft like those who were burned at the stake in nearby Salem all those years ago were never spoken or given out.

The priest warned everyone around this time of year to show no sympathy to the devil. But, Sophie did, to a certain degree. For the ghosts who lost their lives before their time at the hands of monstrous killers, she was compassionate and grieved for their souls. For the creatures of the night, however, that was another story.

When she arrived at the hotel, she was greeted by a seductive woman at the front desk: the Queen Vampire with black long sleeves against shimmering blood red fabric that stopped at the floor. A black laced corset was attached to the chest. A golden necklace with a ruby in the center was attached to the high collar. The necklace matched the centerpiece of her golden crown. A thin spider web wrap covered the top of the dress. She also took quite a while grabbing a room key.

She had set her hood down once inside, revealing thick, curly black hair. Her dark blue eyes showed fear but determination. But under the surface there was sadness, but hope. Then virtue, with desire knocking for freedom.

“Number four shall be your room my dear,” her chilling voice said, “Carmen! Please show this lady to her room, please!”

A young Spanish dancer dressed in red and black like the Queen Vampire, with the exception of her three layers of ruffles, a flower in her hair and on the waist and her fan, sauntered out. “Sí señora,” she said politely.

The Queen Vampire handed her the key. “This is a very special room, dear girl. Don’t think because you’re not in room 166 or the beyond evil 666 that you are safe. Even the lowest numbers in this hotel hold its deadly secrets and desires.”

“What about the muriendo rosas dama Lenore?” the Spanish dancer said.

“Ah yes! Thank you, Carmen. I must warn you as well, there are dying roses in this room—”

Sophie stared coldly at Lenore. “Guess you follow the living closely. You must have known I’ve never married.”

The Queen froze. “Fascinating. But, no. Room 4 is occupied by dead roses. It’s a specialty of the man who occupies the room. If you are allergic to them—”

“I’m not,” Sophie sighed. “Just seems fitting.”

“You must be watched closely,” an evil scientist with a bad hairdo cackled walking by the desk. “Lenore! We have another dead body! Room 246.”

“Oh, very well. I’ll get Lucius to clean that up,” Lenore muttered. She lifted the board. “Early dinner awaits do excuse me.”

Sophie shivered from disgust while the Spanish Dancer led the way just down the hall of the first floor to her room. A burnt out “4” greeted her.

“You will love him, hehehe. Have a lovely fright!” the dancer laughed skipping down the hall and up the stairs.

Puzzled, Sophie slips the key in the lock. She jumped back with a yelp; fire was emerging from the lock spewing flames and smoke. The key turned itself clockwise, opening the door. She shielded her eyes with her arm from any hellish displays that would greet her.

Except, nothing did.

Setting her arm down, she saw a medium-sized room covered in the same dying roses Lenore gave her. The canopy bed was nighttime blue against dark as night black in contrast to the mahogany fireplace. a The wooden floors didn’t creak but were worn and splintered from past tenants. A huge stained glass window caught her eye where a window seat of white and blue pillows lay. The other amenities were there of course, but the bed drew Sophie into the room as if she were hypnotized. The door slowly closed behind her, until a foot stopped it.

“Room service!” a small crew of creatures greeted.

Turning around, Sophie observed a scandalous swordswoman dressed in pink and black, a green marionette, a Queen of the Nile, an undead Spartan warrior, a black water Siren and a coughing bat-monster. They entered with her luggage, a platter of pastries that looked edible and an envelope.

“Hope he likes you,” the siren hissed in jealousy.

“Who?” Sophie asked.

“The warlock that occupies this room,” the Queen of the Nile said kindly. “He has an obsession with dying roses and unmarried women.”

“He should be ready to—” the swordswoman started.

“Enough.” An elegant witch dressed in black said in the doorway, “Stick to your duties. You may socialize later.”

The Siren smacked the swordswoman upside the head with her tail. Sophie’s face took in the sinister, kind and perplexed stares of the undead, strange and unnatural creatures in her room. A slight chill went up her spine but when she turned to her right, she saw no one there.

“You are a spy,” a snake-man slithering his head in hissed. “Sent here to eliminate us.”

“I don’t think every single living person is a spy,” the Queen of the Nile argued as her snake slithered down her arm. “You of all creatures should know that.”

“The living want their place back though, your majesty,” the bat-monster hacked. “They have been at it for centuries.”

“Again, 666.” The marionette spoke. “If anything, this lady is in one of the least horrific rooms of this entire hotel!!”

“‘Least horrific?’” Sophie choked out.

“Indeed,” the elegant witch pitched in. “The Warlock, Bejamar, is a young man banished for what he embraced within himself. He fits in quite well here. I should know, I have worked with him closely.”

“I see.”

“I mean, he is a nice guy. Just lonely,” the marionette pitched in.

“Too bad he doesn’t kill them off—” the bat-monster started.

“—because some of them become witches and serve him for eternity,” the undead Spartan warrior quickly added, “But, he is good to them. I would also claim he is misunderstood.”

“That’s enough, and we don’t serve him for eternity. That depends,” the witch spoke. “You have your stories for the evening. Now, please torment elsewhere.”

Everyone but the witch began to exit the room, grumbling. The snake-man hissed as he slithered down the hall mumbling about his next guests to digest for lunch. Sophie looked down at the envelope. “What’s this?”

“A ball this evening. Wait for his instructions, you will have the time of your life,” the witch said. “Enjoy your stay.”

The door closed with a loud bang, making Sophie jump. Fire began to rise in front of the door, the flames touching the already dead roses and setting them ablaze.

As Sophie retreated to the bed, flames shot out of the dresser, making her gasp. Dying roses began to sprout from the bedframe, emitting a strong, perfumed scent.

“I have come to love you, dear lady,” a deep, soothing voice said.

As Sophie stood hypnotized by the scent, thorny vines sprung from the bed, but didn’t harm her. Instead, the thorns blasted a spell at her dress, turning it rose red and destroying her cobalt cloak. When the smell died down, Sophie’s eyes widened at the dress.

“I look forward to seeing you this evening,” the voice said.

The fire died down just as quickly as it began. The dying roses remained, however, as if they were watching her every move, ready to strike like a predator watching prey. A vine took the envelope near the pastry plate and gave it to Sophie. It simply read:

There’s a door through the fireplace leading to the ballroom. Wait for it. You will never know another again after tonight as I will take away the pain they gave you.

Bejamar

Sophie sat in the window seat to distract herself, watching the bare trees blow against the chilling winds. One of the janitors on the property came out with numerous trash bags. He began to create a hole with a shovel, later dumping bones and someone who was still alive and screaming for help.

As a chill formed in the room, a small fire suddenly bloomed to life. Startled, Sophie noticed the small mahogany fireplace giving off a golden glow. The floor shook as the small fireplace transformed into a door. It opened with a creak. Sophie heard chatter and merriment on the other side.

Leaving her room, she spotted numerous dead and living cohabiting with each other or keeping their distance. Sophie looked around the giant room mixed in red, gray, black, white and purple against gentle blues. Before she could observe further, a young man walked up to her and knelt. She could see his tense light blue eyes under the hood and black robes.

“Bejamar? Is that your name?”

He took his hood off to reveal gray hair and a faded scar over his left eye. “I am, dear lady.”

Sophie’s body relaxed. “You don’t live in the room?”

“No, because it would be rude to spy on a lady.” He kissed her hand as a melody rose from the skeletal orchestra. “A dance?”

Sophie reluctantly accepted as they moved to the ballroom floor. The melody was surprisingly gentle, soothing and romantic. Sophie’s legs shook the entire time. When she glanced at a blob monster attacking a couple, she turned away in fright. The warlock was surprisingly kind. “Don’t be afraid. You are under my protection.”

“I heard you’re obsessed with unmarried women and dying roses.”

“The roses part is correct. They keep the loneliness at bay. The women, depends.”

“Depends?”

“Some bore me, or some amuse me. Others I realize are married, so I just chase them out of the room with natural things.” He smirked.

“Natural?”

“Nature. Flowers, vines, bushes things like that.”

Sophie looked up at Bejamar. “You don’t look—or sound—that horrid.”

Bejamar chuckled. “I will take that as a compliment, dear Sophie.”

“I never married,” she blurted out with a flushed face.

“I know. That’s why we’re here.”

“—was always the bridesmaid,” she quickly added. “I guess wasn’t attractive to them.”

“Tsk tsk such a pity. Well, don’t mind the past rejections.” He twirled her around. “That will change after tonight.”

Sophie felt something stir in her heart, rising rapidly and making her face sweat. She looked deep into his eyes. “I feel like kissing you, but I don’t know why.”

“Then do so.”

“I’d rather not.”

They continued to dance in silence. The melody never changed throughout the evening. Yet, the more she danced with Bejamar, the more Sophie felt desire rocking against her ribcage. “So…you loved these women? Then tossed them aside?”

“No. They usually recoil at me once…they are awakened. Embrace a natural appetite that is forbidden to them. That’s why they banished me. Why hide such a desire from the world? The desire turned me…to this,” Bejamar looked at his hand. “This creature—”

“The priests say to show no sympathy to the devil—”

Bejamar’s eyes darkened. “Are all creatures so devilish? Did the dead ask for this? What about the ghosts who cannot cross over to paradise because they are trapped in purgatory?”

Sophie stepped back in horror, but looked at the warlock with sympathetic eyes. “They never did. We all have our reasons for embracing the dark, or even carnal, desires we are supposed to suppress.”

“May I ask you a question, Lady Sophie?”

“OK.”

“…why are you here?”

Sophie paused at the question. “I came of my own choice.”

“All by yourself? Isn’t that…unwise? No one to accompany you?”

“No one. It does sound unheard of doesn’t it? But, the stories and gossip keep people away. I tired of the loneliness. Plus, it is forbidden to go here because…of the stories that have been told. Maybe that’s why I never married. I never fit, nor will I ever.”

“Well,” Bejamar stepped closer to her, conjuring a small red rose in his hand. “I might say instead of never fitting in…you were never afraid of the darkness, and people are frightened of you for your compassion for the dead. I am not afraid of you.”

“God help me.”

“God help us all.”

With albeit reluctant, her lips met his, moving slowly and cautiously. Then, as if by magic or the hunger of night, the kiss turned passionate. When he escorted her back to Room 4, he remained.  They kissed each other again. Bejamar picked Sophie up and led her to the bed. With the wave of a hand, curtains surrounded the canopied space.

As they kissed wildly in the darkened space, Sophie froze. “Wait.”

Bejamar stopped, a small ball of fire appearing in the darkness. Dying roses began to bloom from the wooden pillars and bedframe. Sophie breathed out in fright.

“Dear lady what troubles you?”

“I can never return after this. If this goes on…” she trailed off.

A vine tilted her face to his. “Then let me take care of you. You can stay here…live in my realm of nature.” He kissed her neck. “I can awaken you in ways you never imagined.”

“There have been more of those cases as time went on—”

“Yes. But, those were rapes. How traumatizing for those women and their families,” he looked at her. “I thank God you ended up here, Sophie. You are in good hands with me.”

“Why me?” she said in fright.

“Because you and I both know,” he slowly kissed her neck again, “the living and the dead have more in common than they think.”

A puddle of mud suddenly formed under Sophie. Gasping, she clutched on to Bejamar as the mud tried to grab her and suck her in. With a wave of his hand, the mud stopped. Sophie’s eyes were wide as cylinders, chills moving through her body.

“You will learn to embrace nature’s call dear Sophie,” he whispered in her ear. “You know you want to…”

After composing herself, Sophie turned to face Bejamar again. Even in the darkness of the canopied-covered bed, she was not afraid. He had been nothing but kind to her, not seductive as the priests warned.  She reluctantly laid back on the bed, closing her eyes. She could feel the mud puddle moving under her, slowly consuming her legs, covering her back and moving up her body.

“This isn’t real,” she whispered. The mud gurgled while holding down her hair. She felt like she was disappearing through the bed as her legs vanished, the mud moving up her stomach. Sophie panted out of fear as she tried to escape. That just made the mud move faster up her waist and to her chest. Her arms were free as they were around Bejamar’s neck. Yet the more she tugged, the more the mud sucked her down.

“My lovely Sophie,” Bejamar whispered seductively when the mud reached her chest, “It is more than real.”

“Where is the mud taking me?” she begged.

“Nowhere. It is transforming you. I assure you it will not kill you.” The mud stopped at her ribcage. “Embrace it now.” He stroked her hair. “Remember, you are in the least horrific place. You cannot imagine the horrors that go on here.”

Sophie’s face hardened. “Yes I can.” The mud hardened then, breaking apart to reveal a dress as blue as her eyes. “What happens now?”

“The awakening begins,” Bejamar leaned down to kiss her. She fell into his arms then, a giant wave of fire swirling around them.

She woke up the next day sighing happily. He returned every night loving her and they kept dancing together in the ballroom. No one, dead or living, entered Room #4 since her stay. No one came for her either, which no one wanted.

She screamed one night in blissful and insane agony; the transformation was complete.

 

About the Author

kristin-riversKristin Rivers is a fiction/short story writer, blogger and aspiring playwright. She is a recent graduate of Smith College with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature and also holds an Associate’s in Creative Writing from Holyoke Community College. Since graduating, she started her own blog, The Writer’s Soul, chronicling her post-college writing journey. She has also contributed a blog post to Dear English Major in June 2016 and had two short stories/writing contest entries recently published online: “Lost and Found” on Wordhaus and “The Book Club” on Short Fiction Break.
She currently lives in Massachusetts as she continues job searching and struggling to get her first novel off the ground.

 


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

Welcome to day twenty-five 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 #668!

 Thornewood Hotel 668

Jeremy finds me in the lobby hiding behind a potted fern. I honestly didn’t think he was smart enough to notice me behind the bloated leaves, my outfit blending in with the navy drapes framing the floor to ceiling windows along the south wall. Normally I’d put more effort into hiding, especially from someone who wants what I know Jeremy wants, but I didn’t think I needed to.

“Come on, Lissa. Just one catch. It would be so easy for you and save me so much time.” For a boy the size of a full grown, well fed, professional football player, he has perfected the art of the pathetic whine. “I don’t have time for this. One little catch, that’s all I’m asking for. That’s basically nothing.”

“I’m not throwing a catch so you can slack off in First World.”

“First World is pointless anyways. Come on, I’ll even trade you for it. All the chocolate mint tea you could possibly drink?”

“Please. If I’m throwing a catch for you, it’s going to cost you a lot more than a beverage I can get for free from room service any old time.”

“So you DON’T want tea?” Jeremy studies me suspiciously.

“That’s going a little too far.” There’s a chill in the air, even in the Thornewood Hotel’s spacious, well-appointed lobby. The lush carpet sinks under my flats as if it’s brand new, and the overall attitude presented by the overstuffed velvet furniture and the roaring fireplace large enough to roast a full-grown human in is presumptuous wealth. But even the Thornewood, a hundred year old palace impervious to change, has to admit winter is coming. Winter in New England can chew up your bones and spit them right back out. Even October is a reminder that something much worse is on it’s way.

“You know what I mean. You don’t want tea in exchange for the catch?”

“I can get free tea, coffee, and hot chocolate any time of day, in any amount I want. Why would I let you off that easy?”

Jeremy grimaces as we pass the front desk and through the French doors into one of the five side parlors. This is my favorite, done in shades of black, gray, and silk. The lamplight is low and evening is descending in a blaze of fiery pink and deep purple glory through the windows. “It’s not my fault you live in the world’s most expensive apartment.”

“Not that expensive for us.” I can’t help bragging a little. It’s good for Jeremy to never be right. Everyone else lets him spout nonsense.

He sighs, flinging himself onto a delicate-legged settee. It quivers under him. “Fine. Fine fine fine, you’re right, Lissa. As usual. About everything. From now to eternity.” He props his head against the narrow silk-covered arm. “I’ll give you whatever it is you want, and I won’t complain for more than one year. Now will you please throw a catch for me and get me through this assignment?”

With his hair all mussed up like that and his legs folded to cram himself onto the elegant couch, he looks like a Greek painting done all in heavy oils, the light directed right onto the breadth of his jaw.

“Fine.” I fold my arms over my chest. My sworn duty is to serve as Jeremy’s sense of balance and proportion. Agreeing to throw a catch for him, when I know my mom will murder me if she ever finds out and the entire town would be scandalized, doesn’t seem like I’m doing my job quite right.

But who can resist the idea of someone owing them a no-holds-barred anytime anywhere favor?

“You know I can’t choose who or when.”

Jeremy lets his head fall back casually against the arm of the settee. It would have worked, too, except that settees are not couches and his skull bounces loudly off the stern wooden backbone. “I don’t care. It’s First World; she just wants some kind of writeup on some kind of historical figure. I bet I get bonus points for not covering Benjamin Franklin or Paul Revere or whoever.”

“Is that literally all you know about history? The old white guys?”

Jeremy groans. “No.”

“That means yes. I can feel it.” I hesitate again. This is all wrong. When I throw a catch, whatever spirit is closest will arrive. They could have died yesterday, and I’d be disturbing their rituals for nothing.  They could have died a hundred years ago – the Thornewood is chock full of interesting spirits, which is why the Catch Keeper’s apartment is here – but have private stories, things they don’t want aired in someone’s junior level History of the First World class. Besides, if all Jeremy knows is a handful of dudes who died a really long time ago, he deserves to do his own research and find something more interesting to know. “This would seriously take you like an hour on the internet. It’s one of the easiest assignments in the entire grade. Not just in First World – in the entire school. Are you sure this is what you want to put yourself into debt for?”

“Just throw the catch,” Jeremy snaps, overenunciating his vowels.

Fine. I warned him about a hundred times.

I close my eyes and open my hands, immediately sensing the hum of spirits gathered close by. The Thornewood always feels this way, like a low-level electric buzz in my bloodstream. I don’t drink coffee or take energy supplements, and I rarely need more than a nap’s worth of sleep. Something about that constant pulse of living and formerly living things makes me impervious to most natural human needs.

Jeremy finds it creepy. My mom, after decades of catch keeping, is starting to find it alienating. I just really enjoy feeling powerful.

The catch is already forming between my hands. Invisible to most human eyes, unbearably attractive to ghostly ones. I make the catch a pleasing shade of turquoise, brilliant in this grayscale parlor. My mom can form catches with her eyes open, but I always find the environment too distracting – particularly when that environment includes Jeremy. I prefer to see the catches in my mind.

This one is a curved U, glittering with broken glass imbedded beneath the smooth as ice surface. The color intensifies until it resembles an ocean at dawn. My back starts to sweat.

My shoulders feel tight and the tips of my fingers shake against the delicate lines of the catch. My mom’s been teaching me the anatomy of catches since before I knew any human anatomy, and I know how to make a catch that works. This one has substance and strength, but the beauty factor is strong in this one and even though I know it’s origins, the allure is enough to entice even me.

Which means it should work pretty quickly.

I open my eyes. Jeremy is still sprawled on the settee. His eyes are on me, on my hands, but to him the catch will look something like an old, chipped teacup. Mom prefers to make her catches look like hairbrushes or contact cases or some other random thing. I’m too afraid of someone picking one up by accident. Bad things happen when ordinary people get curious about catches.

“Is that it? Did you already catch something?”

I roll my eyes. “No, genius. I can’t just catch something with a snap of my fingers. This entire job wouldn’t exist if catching was that easy. I have to find a good spot to lay the catch and we’ll check it tonight.”

“Tonight?” Jeremy’s voice slides up an octave.

There are rumors the Thornewood is haunted. They are, of course, true. The Catch Keeper wouldn’t be housed here if the place weren’t full of ghosts. It’s a hotel – stands to reason that significant portions of people’s lives and huge parts of their stories have happened inside these walls. But haunting is a thing that the average person doesn’t super want to know more about, I guess. To me, signs of a haunting are like the bell in a firehouse or the crackle of a dispatch radio or the chime of someone’s bed alarm in a hospital. Just a call to work.

“Yeah, tonight. It’s the easiest time to check catches without people getting curious. Besides, I have a feeling about this parlor.”

Jeremy leaps off the settee, studying the corners of the room. He brushes off the front of his shirt, as if some ghost has decided to take a snooze on his powerful chest. “Where? What? Do you see some now?”

“I can’t see ghosts.” It’s probably time to give up trying to teach Jeremy about catch keeping or ghosts or anything else that has to do with what I do. He has his job – playing football and getting nerdy about biology sometimes – and I have mine. Never shall the two combine lest I lose my mind.

“Are you sure we have to come back at night? Really, really sure?”

“Swing by the apartment. Room 668.”

Jeremy glares at me. “The Thornewood only has 666 rooms.”

“That depends on who you ask. And how smart you are.” I smile smugly. Jeremy Rutgers might be an attractive, usually thoughtful, occasionally intelligent boy, but I am the catch keeper’s kid and he’s never going to completely outwit me. At least not at the Thornewood. “If you can’t find my place, you probably don’t deserve my help.”

Jeremy pleads all the way back to the lobby, but my favorite hobby is making life hard for him and he should have just saved his breath. Each time I issue him a challenge he can’t complete, it’s a reminder for him of how much he needs me around. Not that he needs the reminder. I’m delightful company. But I don’t think it hurts.

“Making a nuisance of yourself?” Giselle watches Jeremy slink off through the main doors, still casting pitiful glances my way and muttering something about what will happen if he gets caught coming back here after his curfew tonight.

I hand her a peppermint patty. There’s a stash in every bag I own, and while my backpack is a bitter reminder of the homework waiting for me before I check Jeremy’s catch tonight, the accessibility of perfect chocolate and mint almost makes up for it. “I just like to be Jeremy’s wiser and more worldly voice of reason as often as possible.”

“Funny. Voice of reason is your favorite role and yet most people call it voice of annoyance.”

“Are you coming over for dinner?”

Giselle checks the wall clock. “I have another hour before I could reasonably squeeze in a dinner break. Laura was on me for that on my last time card, so I have to watch when I clock out. Apparently an hour long dinner break 45 minutes into my shift is not considered a wise use of my time.”

“Can’t your brother just cover for you instead of you even clocking out?”

“I think they’re catching on to that. They let things go for me a lot because of the whole privileged citizen business, but I can’t take advantage of it. I might need to leverage all that pity at some point for something that’s a bigger deal than dinner.”

“I don’t know. Mom’s cooking, not me. This might be worth using up some pity points for.”

Giselle’s face brightens considerably. I would be offended, if it weren’t for the fact that I suck at cooking, and I’m feeling pretty relieved myself that my mom is in charge tonight.

When the builders created this place way back when, hotels were a big deal. An inn or a motel was nothing, you paid for a night and slept on some hay in an ale-drunken stupor and then carried on the next morning. Hotels, on the other hand, were places the wealthy went to show off being wealthy. They expected comfort, glamour, sophistication. They wanted to be wowed while pretending very hard not to be.

When the current owners took the Thornewood over and got her all restored from the spider-infested hovel she’d become in the early 1900s, they decided to turn some of the servant’s quarters into serviceable low income apartments. There are three fairly decent apartments down there now, which means there are four families who live permanently at the Thornewood. One apartment is occupied by Wilmar, the 97-year-old human relic who enjoys walking around with a cane to shake at everyone except pretty college girls and men in suits. Another hosts a family with seven kids that all wear a lot of jean material. The last one is home to Giselle, her brother, and her uncle.

Mom and I live upstairs. Room 668, despite Jeremy’s insistence that such a thing is impossible. And up until now, aside from a bevy of ghosts, Wilmar’s mumbling, and the annoying habit the nighttime desk clerk has of staring down his nose at Mom and I, the Thornewood has been as close to a happy, cozy home as I could imagine.

The thing is, I’ve never thrown a catch my Mom didn’t approve of before. I’m confident in my catching abilities. I’m comfortable with ghosts. I’m…well, I’m whatever I feel around Jeremy. This should be fine.

Which is why I am equal parts worried and embarrassed by the trickle of fear sliding slowly down my spine as Giselle and I make dinner plans and I ride the elevator up to my apartment.

Dinner is sweet and sour chicken with slightly crunchy brown rice, which is five steps above my usual Thursday night plain chicken with super crunchy brown rice offering. Giselle hums appreciatively as she helps clear the table and promises to glue some pages of the nighttime desk clerk’s log together for me tonight.

Mom settles into the wingback chair by our nonfunctioning fireplace as I fix my hair in the mirror behind the door. “Going somewhere?”

She’s right to sound surprised. It’s after 7:00, and traditionally I like to go to bed at the same approximate time as preschoolers and elderly grandmothers.

“I’m just helping a friend with homework.”

“Jeremy.” Mom sniffs as she turns a page in her book. She’s never been a particular fan, ever since Jeremy spilled an entire can of Coke on a batch of fresh catches disguised as household bills.

“It could be someone else too. It could be for Giselle. Or Sarah, or Amanda. Or Nick.”

“Why do you even bother? Your mom is way too smart for you to try to pull off some nonsense.” Mom turns another page. There’s no way she’s reading that fast and her unease makes me uneasy too.

“What’s wrong?” I ask casually. I put on a coat for dramatic effect. Just to be clear, I could actually be leaving the Thornewood and dropping a study guide off at Nick or Amanda’s house. I could.

Mom sighs, rubbing her temple. “Something’s off. I should throw an extra set of catches tonight and put up a few barriers. I haven’t felt one like this in a long time. It’ll have to be just the right catch to keep whatever this is, and I don’t know if I even have the energy. It’s making me tired. I feel a migraine coming on.”

That’s definitely not a problem. Out of all the ghosts in the world, my catch definitely did not keep a dangerous one. Nope. Everything is completely fine.

My throat is a little too dry. “But you’ve gotten migraines before. Remember that set of brothers a couple years ago? They gave you such a migraine you threw up.”

“And they were extremely dangerous.” Mom closes her book aggressively and stands up, brushing her hand on my shoulder as she walks to the kitchen to make tea. “Just keep an eye out. Don’t let Jeremy get you wrapped up in any stupid schemes. I’ve got a bad feeling about this one. This is the kind of catching that gets people killed or lost.”

Our eyes accidentally meet. Mom and I prefer to have all our serious conversations while staring into the broken fireplace, or up at the stars, or at the couch cushions. It’s much easier to be honest when we don’t have to see each other being so honest and vulnerable.

The thing about lost people is that my dad is one of them. Back in my mom’s heyday, when she was a roving catch keeper and would take on anything, anywhere. She was invincible, and worth a lot of money to people with unsolvable ghost problems, until the day my dad was too close, and the ghost was too strong, and instead of her catch keeping the ghost, it kept my dad.

What I remember about him is a reddish beard and a laugh that seemed to shake the floorboards. I was two, though, so I suppose a lot of earth-shaking things happened.

I break eye contact and zip up my coat, stuffing my feet into a pair of boots. “I’ll be back in half an hour or so. I can make you some hot chocolate then, if you want. If you’re still working.”

Mom frowns. “Apology hot chocolate? What is it, exactly, that you’re going to help Jeremy with? You better not be cheating. Or encouraging cheating. That boy’s got to learn to get by on something besides his looks.”

“We’re not cheating, Mom.” Much.

“Watch out for signs. If you see anything-“

“Leave a marker behind so you can find it. I know. I’ll text you if anything weird happens.”

“Don’t text me. Get out of there and come home safely.” Mom shakes her head as she puts the kettle on the stove, muttering something to herself about teenagers and their nonexistent understanding of the frailty of human lives.

There are things about having a parent for a roommate that are less than pleasant.

I open the door and walk out straight into Jeremy. He’s standing hunch-shouldered and wide-eyed, looking slightly bewildered. His hair is all on end.

“You scared me,” he says, pouting like a toddler.

“You scared me. Why are you lurking in front of my apartment?”

“You said I had to find your place if I wanted help. I’ve been here for two hours trying to find it.”

“You could have just followed me home.”

“You would have noticed.”

He’s not wrong.

Our apartment, Room 668 of the Thornewood, is only accessible via a spiraling metal staircase inside the wall of Room 666. Nobody is supposed to know exactly where we live- there’s still a few people who think ghosts should be free to roam regardless of the havoc that can cause, and think catch keeping is cruel. There’s other people who want to use catches for their own purposes, as if the stories of a handful of old ghosts are going to somehow make them powerful or wise. Most stories are nothing but first kisses and ancient petty arguments, but try telling that to a muscle-bound mustachioed dude who thinks a ghost knows the location of the treasure he’s been searching for all his life.

There’s a lot of reasons for keeping the exact location and access point of our apartment under the radar.

“How did you even find it?”

Jeremy taps his head. “I am much smarter than you give me credit for.”

“Who’d you flirt with?” I ask, narrowing my eyes.

Jeremy makes a point of focusing on his feet finding rungs on the slippery, rusting twist of the metal as we descend. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Flirting would be cruel, when I’m so beautiful and people are so vulnerable to my powers.”

“You are a huge idiot.”

“But you love me.”

There’s an uncomfortable twinge in my chest at the word ‘love’ that I’d rather not stop and consider for too long. I’m busy rushing headlong into foolish danger. No need to look too closely at my motivations.

Room 666 is, thankfully, occupied by an elderly couple who go to bed around six each evening and sleep like mountains, unyielding and emitting a faint whistle of wind. The front desk doesn’t often rent 666 for an assortment of fairly obvious reasons, but when they do they try to keep it to customers like these. I have crept past far more than my fair share of weirdly sleeping people. There are a lot of people who do weird things in their sleep.

It’s no problem getting past them, but working our way back to the parlor is a challenge. Everyone knows I hate being up late at night – late, in this case, being around 8:37 pm – and everyone knows I shouldn’t be ready to throw catches on my own yet. There’s a whole licensing process, and since catch keeping isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s a big deal when someone gets licensed. They would know if I’d made any progress in that regard.

It takes impersonating a waitress, army crawling behind the partition that separates the wait staff hall from the dining room, and literally sprinting down a back hallway with the night manager’s voice growing ever closer behind us as he waxes wise to some unfortunate soul, but we manage to slide into the parlor without being seen.

My skin immediately crawls. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my heart is beating much faster than it should be. We did just escape danger. It was a harrowing journey into this parlor, and required a lot more acrobatics than someone who is usually in bed at this time of night should ever have to perform.

Of course that’s why I’m so uneasy. Of course that’s why a knot forms in my stomach as I step cautiously toward my catch.

The smooth glass sides of my catch are covered in spider vein cracks. The entire catch shudders and heaves, as if something is about to hatch like an egg.

I swallow a hundred misgivings and reach out my hand.

“Did you get something? I hate First World, you’re saving my life! I could kiss you right now.” Jeremy comes up behind me, so close I can feel the warmth of his body down my spine.

There’s still time to turn back. I could listen to my gut, the catch keeper’s best friend, and walk away. I could stop lying to my mom and let her help me. I could bring the catch to the restored tavern down the street, home to half a dozen roaming catch keepers, and get one of them to tackle whatever it is inside there.

I have a lot of options, and all of them would be better than doing this myself. Every instinct in my body screams no.

Except the instincts that are all too aware of Jeremy’s eager face and the hand he rests on my shoulder.

It just can’t be as bad as my mom thinks. She’s poisoned by what happened with my dad.

Jeremy’s hand slides over my shoulder and curves around my bicep.  He laughs, and it tickles behind my ear.

I touch the catch.

It shatters under my fingertips, something dark and malevolent and HUNGRY swarming through the room with a sound like birds’ wings and a gasp like a thousand creatures have just come to life.

The force that ricochets off the walls should belong to a thousand ghosts, but there’s only one. I catch the shape of it as it swirls into form; a girl with the shadow of long dark hair and furious eyes. Then she vanishes down the hall. A moment later there’s a scream, and then another.

I turn slowly, and meet Jeremy’s terrified gaze. “It’s a snare,” I whisper. “I threw a snare somehow. We didn’t get her story. We gave her back her soul.”

 

About the Author

jamie-adamsJamie is an MG and YA writer, among other things. She has a minor shoe addiction, major coffee addiction, and the ability to read multiple books in a single day if left uninterrupted. Christmas is her favorite holiday: colorful lights, peppermint candy, and sweet, sappy stories included.

She can be found at jamieadamswriting.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @jamie_adams22.

 


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

Welcome to day twenty-four 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 #665!

 Thornewood Hotel 665

October 31st—4pm

“Yes Miss Thompson, I will put you down for a wakeup call,” Cindy assured the woman in room eighty-four as she scrawled a note in the column of the guest register.  ”Yes, yes, I understand—they’ll make sure you get up. Yes, I know it’s a matter of life and—”

A blast of October air caused Cindy to look up as two young women strolled through the lobby doors of the Thornewood Hotel.

“Holy moly, does this place sing,” the first one said, momentarily pulling off one of her headphones before letting it slap back into place. She looked like she was on her way to a metal concert. The red streaks in her curly black hair matched the plaid skirt she was wearing, and her Suicidal Tendencies shirt had the sleeves torn off, revealing a myriad of tattoos that covered each arm. There were shapes and symbols Cindy had never seen before, woven between what looked like musical notes. She immediately wandered off, taking in the architecture and decor of the Thornwood’s lobby, while her companion continued to the front desk.

“Welcome to the Thornewood—what can I help you with today?” Cindy asked with a smile. She couldn’t help but notice how similar this girl looked to the first one. Physically similar, that was. Her style could not have been more different. Her hair was pin straight and dyed a deep indigo. She wore plain jeans, a black leather jacket and a t-shirt that said “The Book Was Better.” The silver markings on the black frames of her glasses looked similar to the tattoos all over the other girl’s arms.

“Checking in—Delacroix,” the young woman said matter-of-factly. She spoke softly but with a clarity and confidence that reminded Cindy of a reference librarian.

“Here we are,” Cindy said as she ran her finger down the long list of names in the hotel register. “Delacroix—reservation for two. I can give you a room with a view of the—”

“I specifically asked for room six-six-five when I called,” the young woman replied, leaning over to peek at the ledger. As her bluish-purple locks fell across the faded white paper they seemed to be in motion, and Cindy found them strangely hypnotic. Her eyes followed one particular strand that pointed to a handwritten note next to the reservation.

“Huh,” Cindy said as she looked again. “Not sure how I missed that note. Six-six-five it is. The room was vacant last night, so it should be ready for you. Let me just summon the bellhop…”

“No need,” a second voice replied, startling Cindy. The girl with the headphones stepped out from behind her companion, gesturing to the backpack she had slung over one shoulder. “We travel light.”

When Cindy saw them side by side, the resemblance in their faces was unmistakable. “Are you two—”

“Sisters,” the girl replied. “I’m Lucie, and this is Mo.” she smiled, pointing a thumb at her sibling.

“Maurelle,” the indigo-haired one corrected, raising a brow toward her sister.

“Don’t mind her,” Lucie winked at Cindy. “It’s only ‘Maurelle’ when she’s being grumpy. Probably just hungry from the long drive.”

“Where did you two travel in from?” Cindy asked as she handed the key over to Mo, who took it with a nod. As the young woman’s fingers closed around it, Cindy noticed that Mo’s hands were fully tattooed, but not with notes and symbols like her sister—with words. Some she recognized, many she did not.

“Saint Thomas,” Lucie told her. “It’s about two hundred kilometers west of Niagara—”

“Lucienne,” her sister scolded her. “I’m sure Cindy has other guests to attend to. We should find our room.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Cindy replied with a wave of her hand. “It’s only four o’clock. Things won’t really get busy for another hour or so. If you traveled all this way, you must be coming for our big Halloween ball tonight.”

“You guys are having a party tonight?” Lucie replied excitedly. “That sounds super fun. Maybe after Mo and I—”

“We’re actually just here for a little rest and relaxation,” Mo said, cutting her sister off again. Lucie just rolled her eyes and mouthed the words “no fun.”

“Well, we have a five-star spa here at the Thornewood,” Cindy explained, “and our kitchen is open until midnight. There’s a binder in your room with all the details, and if you need anything else, you just call me—I’ll be here all night.”

Mo bowed and head slightly in thanks and the two sisters turned toward the stairwell.

“We have elevators right over there,” Cindy pointed out, but Lucie had already disappeared.

“I don’t trust elevators—they hide things,” Mo said over her shoulder as she pushed open the door to the stairs.

***

“She seemed nice,” Lucie called down to Mo from a couple flights up as they ascended to the sixth floor. Each step they took echoed, and it sounded as if there were dozens of people on the stairs with them. Neither Mo nor Lucie seemed bothered.

“She’s seen some things,” Mo replied. “Fortunately, this place seems to like her. I don’t think she’s in danger. I’m pretty sure the guests provide more than enough sustenance for this old girl,” she said, patting the wall of the stairwell.

“Man…every inch of this place is crying out,” Lucie mused. “So much for rest and relaxation.”

She struck the metal railing with her silver ring and listened as a low note echoed throughout the stairwell. “Definitely labor pains.”

“Let’s get ready, then,” Maurelle said as she caught up to Lucie. “If we finish the job quick, we can take a trip to the spa,” she added, pulling open the door to the sixth floor.

“Wow, that angry energy smacks you right in the face,” Lucie winced as they emerged from the stairwell.

Mo could feel it too. The sixth floor had an entirely different vibe than the rest of the building. And they were smack dab in the middle of it. To their left was a string of rooms with another stairwell at the end. To the right, another string of rooms that ended in a large suite—room 666.

“Hold on,” Lucie said, taking one small step into the hallway. She raised her hands above her head and began to sing a singular note, bringing her arms slowly down to her sides. When she was done, she pulled her headphones down around her neck and listened.

Mo knew better than to interrupt Lucie while she was hearing. She waited patiently as Lucie reached into her backpack and pulled out a small bronze bell with runes carved into its wooden handle.

“Okay, stick close,” Lucie told Mo, holding the bell in front of her.

She rung the bell once and took one large step forward, her sister following silently behind her. The air around them seemed to swallow up the bell’s note almost as soon as Lucie rang it. They slowly made their way down the long hallway of rooms.

“If it’s this bad now, I can’t imagine what it will be like by midnight,” Mo said, making sure to keep her had on her sister’s back as Lucie cleared the air for them to pass.

“We might not even have to wait that long,” Lucie replied, coming to a stop in front of their room. “This place is ready to pop.”

With the amount of energy they were both feeling, their curiosity dared them to at least sneak a peek into room 666. But they were smarter than that. The room was basically the spiritual womb of the hotel, and whatever was growing inside its energy was going to be born very soon.

Lucie used the old metal key to unlock their room and proceeded to clear it as she had the hallway before.

“We’re good for now,” she finally said, before flopping down on one of the two queen sized beds. “Talk about pea soup,” she sighed, putting her headphones back on and yawning. “I need food.”

A minute later, she was snoring as the sounds of thrash metal drifted out of her headphones.

It wasn’t unusual for Lucie to sleep with metal music blaring in her ears, but Mo was concerned that just getting them both to the room had taxed her sister. They were clearly dealing with something big.

Mo called room service and ordered some pizza. She then got to work, letting her sister rest.

She reached into their bag and pulled out a handful of polyhedral dice—four, six, eight, twelve and twenty-sided. Each one was made of a different type of stone or crystal, from merlinite to obsidian. With a flick of her wrist Mo tossed the dice against the wall their room shared with room 666, and noting the numbers they landed on.

“Interesting,” she remarked as she pulled the switchblade out of her boot and proceeded to make a series cuts in the yellow wallpaper that adorned the wall. She ripped several strips off, using a piece of black chalk to mark specific spots on the wall. She scooped up the dice and murmured a few words over them before embedding each one into the spots she had marked on the wall. She was so focused was trying to make sense of their placement that the knock on the door startled her.

“Pizza!” Lucie blurted, springing from the bed out of a dead sleep and throwing open the door before Mo had even taken a step.

“Did you order—” started the bewildered young man holding a pizza box and a two-liter of soda.

“Yup! Here you go. Thanks—bye!” Lucie cut him off, grabbing the food and replacing it with a wad of cash. The door was closed again before he could open his mouth, but Lucie heard a confused “thank you” as he shuffled away, realizing she’d given him a twenty dollar tip.

“You’ve been busy,” she said as she folded a large slice of pepperoni pizza in half and took a bite. She nodded to the crystals in the wall. “Whufs up?”

Mo was going to scold her for talking with her mouth full, but they had bigger issues to worry about.

“I don’t really know yet,” she said with a sigh. “There’s no pattern. And that means—”

“Chaos,” Lucie interrupted. “Makes sense.”

“How does that make sense?” Mo asked, grabbing her own slice and sitting on the bed opposite her sister.

“This group that hired us—the Parted Veil?” Lucie began, “They have their own people who deal in magicks. Clerics, druids, alchemists—hell, even dreamers! And their leader in these parts is not the most trusting of souls. But they went outside their group hired a couple of bards for this job.”

“And?” Mo prodded

“And,” Lucy rolled her eyes, “it’s because they don’t know what this pregnant bitch of a hotel is going to give birth to tonight. Demon’s, spirits, undead—those are all known quantities. But when all signs point to something new, you call in the bards.”

“When you say it like that, it almost makes sense,” Mo smirked at her sister.

“Of course it does,” Lucie replied. “How do you describe the indescribable? How do you capture emotion? How do you give from to chaos?”

“With words and music,” Mo replied.

“Right,” Lucie nodded. “And besides—it’s Samhain. There’s shit crossing over everywhere tonight, especially in New England. It’s probably all hands on deck for the Parted Veil.”

“Well, they’re certainly paying us well enough,” Mo said. “So let’s give them their money’s worth—right after we finish the rest of this pizza.”

***

By the time midnight was approaching, Mo had cleared the room, transforming all of the furniture into words on sticky notes they placed on the back wall. She and Lucie then sat on the floor facing the crystal-embedded wall, each with their implements laid out before them.

In front of Lucie was a rune-inscribed metal bowl and a small, leather-wrapped wooden mallet that resembled a rolling pin.

Sitting in front of Mo was a book of blank parchment that she had bound herself, covered with black velvet fastened a silver clasp.

A single lit candle sat between them, and the two sisters clasped hands over the flame. With a nod from Mo, Lucie picked up the mallet with her free hand and began to run it along the rim of the metal bowl. A low-pitched hum began to fill the room, and Lucie began to sing along softly, her voice syncing with the singing bowl. Mo began to speak over the tune:

“As the veil between worlds draws thin,

What once was kept out may come in;

For the door to our world is cracked open,

And slumbering forms have awoken.”

The crystals embedded in the wall began to glow, and both sisters felt the lungs of the Thornewood draw breath as it prepared for the crossing. Mo continued over Lucie’s tune:

“Whatever shall come must first pass,

Through the infinite cosmic morass;

And take on a physical form,

As into this plane it is born.”

The wall itself before them heaved, seemingly alive. The glowing crystals began to blacken and wither, turning into a thick, dark liquid that began to seep from the holes in the wall.

Neither Lucie nor the bowl broke from their song, and Mo continued, her voice rising:

“Let the song of my sister compel,

The invader to where it must dwell;

In the bowl will your story unfold,

And in the pages of my book be told.”

The viscous substance leaking through the holes began to lift off the wall and stream toward the bowl before Lucie. She stopped running the mallet around the bowl’s rim, but its note continued, as did her song. Mo squeezed her sister’s hand, lending strength to her song and helping pull the entity into the bowl.

When the bleeding of the wall stopped, the bowl was three-quarters full. The inky liquid swirled around on its own, a living mass that seemed to be looking for a way out. Both Mo and Lucie could feel the power that coursed through it, and it filled them with a dread they had never experienced before.

Even in the dim light of the candle, they began to understand the being’s true color. It wasn’t black—it was nothing. The color of the void itself.

And it was mesmerizing.

In fact, had the door to the right of Mo not suddenly been kicked in, perhaps she and her sister would have stared at the swirling mass in the bowl forever. But the sound of splintering wood broke through the singular note that had filled the room, and the candle between them went out, plunging everything into darkness.

“Lumiere!” Mo called out, the room filled with light. She turned just in time to see the sole of a large boot fill her vision before it connected with her face. She grunted as the force of the kick sent her reeling backward, her hand wrenched away from her sister’s.

When Mo let go of her hand, Lucie snapped out of her trance to see two red-robed figures had stormed into the room. Each of them more a white mask that had a strange symbol painted in yellow on the forehead. The symbol look like a coiled tentacle with a small circle on top. Two more tentacles rose out of the circle, reaching for the sky. Lucie immediately recognized it—the Yellow Sign. Her mind tried to make the connection but one of the cultists brandished a knife as long as her forearm, and made straight for her as the other attacked Mo.

Lucie remained seated and waited for the attack. As the long blade arced down she batted her assailant’s arm aside and threw her weight backward, kicking the cultist in the head. She heard a female groan under the mask as her attacker stumbled to the back of the room, thankfully away from the bowl of swirling darkness that was still sitting on the floor.

“Mo!” Lucie called out, jumping to her feet.

“Keep her away from it!” Mo snapped back at her as she wiped blood from her nose and then charged at the cultist who had kicked her. She put a shoulder in his stomach and he stumbled backward through the bathroom door, falling into the tub. Mo pulled the door shut and turned to face the other cultist, who had gotten to her feet and was keeping them both at bay with her knife.

“You are way out of your league,” Lucie told her. “Drop the knife and take that stupid mask off.”

“We must open the door for his return, and this a piece of the key,” the woman hissed at them. “You will not stand in our way!”

The cultist ran at Lucie, who kicked her in the stomach sending the woman into the wall, gasping for air. Lucie crept closer, whistling four notes, and the cultist was frozen, unable to move. She then began to hum a tune.

“Lucie, wait—” Mo started to caution her, but her sister was already singing.

“Come to take what isn’t yours,” Lucie sang at the woman, her tune like a lullaby.

“Breaking through others’ locked doors,” she continued as she stepped closer.

“Hide behind a mask of white?” The woman’s eyes went wide with panic as Lucie leaned in and softly sung the final line.

“That mask becomes your tomb tonight.”

No sooner had Lucie sung the final word than the white plastic of the woman’s mask began to cover her entire body. Her muffled scream was cut off as the plastic shell sealed itself and she fell to the floor with a thud.

“That was a little much, don’t—” Mo started to say, but the bathroom door flew open and the other cultist charged past her, grabbing Lucie and throwing her across the room.

Lucie crashed into the metal bowl, the viscous liquid sloshing out of the bowl and onto her shoulder and head.

“Lucie!” Mo screamed, but it was too late.

The substance slithered into Lucie’s ears, nose and mouth, and disappeared within seconds. She began spasming, her eyes taking on the color of the entity within her.

Mo wheeled around in fury, expecting the cultist to be on the attack again. But he was frozen in terror as he watched Lucie writhe on the floor.

“What is this?!” Mo screamed as she shoved him against the wall and tore off his mask.

“I don’t’ know!” he cried, trying to wriggle from her grasp. “We were sent to retrieve it—it’s part of the key. I know nothing else!”

“Then your story is done” Mo growled at him. She put a palm on his forehead and muttered an incantation, then turned to help her sister.

The man turned to flee the room, but stumbled, and cried out in pain. “What have you done to me?” he coughed as the flesh of his face began to crack and detach. His cry turned to a groan of agony as his flesh began to peel off, and his knees buckled. Strips of his skin looked like parchment as they fell from his body, and each one had words written on them. Before his eyes withered in their sockets, he caught sight of the words on a chunk of what used to be his face as it drifted to the floor. What have you done to me, he coughed…

“Lucie!” Mo screamed as she slid to her knees next to sister’s flailing body. Lucie was gibbering on in a mixture of recognizable words and undecipherable clicks and sounds. Mo knew she had to get that thing out of her.

“Slithering void…” Lucie babbled. “Cosmic primordium…”

Mo reached over and grabbed the book she had prepared for the ritual. But she knew she wouldn’t be able to focus on her words and stabilize her sister at the same time. She needed help. Still cradling Lucie, she called out. “These words I speak shall now compel the spirits that in this building dwell!”

Mo felt the temperature in the room drop, so she knew she had an audience.

“Help me subdue what seeks to invade, and I promise you will be doubly repaid!”

The air around them got still, and for a moment Mo wasn’t sure her plea had been answered. But suddenly, her sister’s body was lifted from her lap, as unseen hands held Lucie fast and kept her from lashing out.

“Here!” Mo said as she quickly grabbed the blank book and opened it to the first page.

The spirits brought Lucie’s body to hover over the book, her face held within inches of the parchment.

Mo took a deep breath to steady herself, as she needed to focus all of her energy into her words. She then closed her eyes and began to chant:

“Usurper of my sister’s mind,

In this book your form I bind;

Fill its pages with your story,

Every word in all their glory.”

She continued to chant as Lucie’s body struggled against the spirits that held it fast. Mo’s voice continued to rise, and by the third time she had completed the chant, splotches of liquid darkness began to drip onto the blank page and take the form of words and symbols.

Mo continued to chant, and the drips became a stream. Liquid poured out of Lucy, as she vomited forth the rest of whatever had taken residence within her.

Mo was terrified, but she held onto the book as its pages flipped rapidly, each one filling with the story of whatever had crossed over into their world on this night of Samhain.

As the last drop was drained from Lucie, a final word formed on the last page of the book:

NYARLATHOTEP

A bolt of terror shot through Mo and she flung the book away from herself. In the back of her mind, a slow drumbeat began to thump. She shook her head, refusing to let it take hold. She had to help Lucie.

As Mo turned away from the book, Lucie’s body was gently being set down on the floor, and Mo rushed to her.

“Come back to me, Lucie,” she said, tears brimming over as she brushed the matted hair out of her sister’s face. “It’s over—I got it out.”

Lucie whimpered for a moment, then her eyes shot open and her hands shot up to grab hold of Mo’s shirt.

“It’s coming!” she cried, a dreadful moan escaping her lips. Her eyes gazed at something far beyond that room, and they reflected a terror Mo had never seen in her sister before. “I’ve seen it.”

“Lucienne,” Mo said softly, caressing her face. “It’s Maurelle. You’re here with me. You’re safe.”

Lucie blinked a few times, and her distant stare faded as her eyes found Mo’s face. Mo smiled back at her, and Lucie started to cry. She sat up and hugged her sister, sobbing into Mo’s shoulder.

“I know,” Mo comforted her.

As she sat there letting Lucie cry, Mo became aware that the spirits were still in the room with them, waiting for their prize.

“Thank you for your help,” she said to the unseen. “The foul entity that crossed over tonight will not trouble this place—it will be leaving with us. But I do have a soul to exchange for your help, and we’ve giftwrapped it for you.”

She nodded toward the woman in the plastic shell lying against the wall, and her body began to sink into the floor. Her muffled screams disappeared with the rest of her, and the spirits were gone.

Lucie lifted her head from Mo’s shoulder and sat back, exhausted. “I was almost gone, you know,” she said. “The void—it called to me. The drums, the flutes—its song was beautiful…and terrible. I saw the Crawling Chaos, Mo. It wants to consume everything.”

“I know,” Mo nodded. “And if there is any hope of stopping it, it’s gonna take a lot more than us. Our best shot at figuring out how is in that book,” she said, pointing at the tome on the floor. “We need to get it somewhere safe.”

Lucie nodded. She grabbed her backpack and pulled out a red leather pouch, handing it to Mo. “I can’t,” she said, nodding toward the black book. “It knows me now.”

Mo took the leather pouch and slipped it over the book, pulling the straps on the pouch tight. She knew she’d have to hold onto it until they could get it to their contact at the Parted Veil. But she wasn’t just going to hand it over. Whatever was going on, they were a part of it now.

“Let’s get out of here” she told her sister. Lucie grabbed her backpack and headphones and turned for the door.

“What about this guy?” she asked, her gaze falling on the pile of fragmented pages that was the other cultist.

“We might as well take him with us,” Mo replied. “We can piece his story together and find out how the followers of the King in Yellow fit into all this.”

Lucie scooped up the papers and stuffed them into her backpack. “Do you think we need to clear the hall again?” she asked as they stepped out of their room.

“I think the residents of the Thornewood are giving us the rest of the night off,” Mo replied. “Besides, there’s a party going on downstairs. They’ll have plenty of toys to play with later.”

 

About the Author

Brian LeTendre Author PicBrian LeTendre is the writer of the Parted Veil horror series, which includes Intrusive Thoughts, Courting the King in Yellow, Lovecraft’s Curse, and Lovecraft’s Pupil.

A gaming, comics and horror lover, Brian has co-hosted and produced a podcast about geek culture called Secret Identity since 2006, producing well over 1700 hours of programming. He also hosts and produces podcasts about writing (See Brian Write), music (Thrash It Out) and gaming (Co-Op Critics).

Brian lives and works in Massachusetts.

Brian on Twitter

Brian’s Blog

Brian on Amazon

Brian’s Podcasts


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.

Trick-Treat-banner-Blood-Brothers

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.”

Allan Blood: “I’LL BE RIGHT BACK AFTER I EAT THESE RATS!”

 

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!

Trick

Edgar: Snakes!

Allan: What?

 

Treat

Edgar: Snakes!

Allan: Goo!

 

Bat

Edgar: Snakes!

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

 

Boo!

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

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.

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WANT TO READ MORE

TRICK-OR-TREAT CHRONICLES?

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

 


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

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.

“Poughkeepsie.”

“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.

“Frank.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Oh?”

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.”

“No?”

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.”

“Sorry?”

“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.”

“Haunted?”

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.

“Sir?”

“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.

217.

“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?”

“Faye.”

“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.”

“Hmph.”

“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.

“Frank?”

“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.”

“Oh?”

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?”

“Sure.”

“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 www.sarahlblair.com and if you’d like to get in touch with Sarah, she’s usually lurking around Twitter @sarahlblair.


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

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.”

“Oh.”

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.

“Ma.”

“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.

“How?”

“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.


Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

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?”

“Yes.”

“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-author-pic

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.

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Haunted-Hotel-Showcase

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!

ThornewoodHotel-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.

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