Welcome to day twenty-one of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!
Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #217!
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Frank glanced up at the bartender as he shook out his fedora.
The barrel of a man behind the counter stopped wiping the counter and motioned out the window.
“Yeah. Raining cats and dogs.” As long as they were speaking in clichés he might as well keep it up. “Can’t see past the end of my nose.”
“Right.” The bartender offered him a pack of matches and an ashtray as Frank slipped onto the stool at the counter. “What’ll it be?”
“Whiskey.” Frank struck a match and lit his cigarette, highlighting the sticky spots on the counter in front of him. “Neat.”
“What brings ya out on a night like this?” Bartender took his time with the drink.
“Got lost. Figured I better pull over and find out where the hell I am before I drive off the edge of the Earth.”
“Where ya headed?” Bartender leaned his elbows on the counter as he put the glass down in front of Frank, who threw it back with a gulp, enjoying the sting of the liquor, enjoying the blessed numbness the aftertaste brought even more.
“Pardon my French, but what the fuck’s in Poughkeepsie?”
He swallowed down the burn of the liquor, dreading the thought of what lay ahead of him. “Vacuum cleaner convention.”
Bartender raised an eyebrow. He turned and grabbed the whiskey bottle, topping off Frank’s drink. “This one’s on me.”
“Pete.” The bartender offered his meaty hand and they shook.
“Hate to break it to ya, but you’re way past the turn-off for Poughkeepsie. It’s late. Weather’s bad. There’s a hotel up the road about two miles. Thornewood.”
“Great.” Frank took a long drag off his cigarette.
“Only thing is—” Pete leaned in again, keeping his voice low. Frank glanced around. There was no one else in the place. “They say it’s haunted.”
Pete nodded slowly. “Gotta be careful in these parts. All sorts of spooks around. ‘Specially this time of year. Storm riles ‘em up. Best you get off the road until morning. Never know what might get ya.”
He had a manner about him that pulled Frank in. Each word brought him closer to the bar until he was pressed up against it with nowhere else to go. Much like his current situation in life.
“Boo!” Pete boomed.
Frank jumped back, clambering to stop himself from spilling off the stool onto the weathered boards below.
“Jesus.” Frank jabbed out his cigarette as Pete’s shoulders shook in a silent chuckle. The wind howled outside, creeping in through the cracks, causing the building around them to creak and groan as if it were a living thing.
“Sorry. Don’t get much fun around here,” Pete said. “You ain’t sore about it, are ya?”
Frank waved his hand. “Way things are going, I’m surprised you didn’t think I was a ghost.”
Frank took another drink. “No wife. No kids. Pretty much every door I knock on gets slammed in my face. Nobody just buys a new vacuum for no reason. Everybody’s got one already. It breaks, they fix it. May as well go spend the night with the ghosts. I’ll fit right in.”
“Can’t be as bad as all that, can it?”
Frank shrugged. He glanced up in the mirror on the wall and blinked. His face looked blurry, like an eraser had smudged out his features. He felt smudged, blurry, a shadow. A breath and a shake of his head and the distortion was gone.
He downed the rest of his drink and tapped the bar.
“Tell me. If a man disappeared and nobody noticed, did he really exist in the first place?”
Pete scowled and hesitated with the bottle over the glass. “You’re not some kind of lightweight, are ya?”
“What? No.” Frank swatted at the air. “It’s just. You get out alone on the road and your mind starts to wander, you know?”
“Mm.” Pete poured the drink. “This like that tree falls in the forest thing?”
“You feel me.” The whiskey was doing the trick now, and it had been so long since Frank had anybody to talk to about anything other than suction power and warranties that he really let loose. “My girl left me. Sylvia. Said I had a one way ticket on the train to Nowheresville. Ironic, really.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Nothing personal, Pete, but look around.” Frank waved around the empty room. “I made it. Nowheresville, U.S.A.”
“Fair enough.” Pete brought out the bar mop again and resumed his polishing.
“So, anyway. She left me. Wanted me to get a ‘real job,’ she said.” He shook his head and took a drink from his empty glass, wondering how the whiskey had disappeared because he certainly didn’t remember drinking it.
“The idea of working someplace steady, answering the same phone at the same desk in the same corner of the same building, day after day until I retire or drop dead of a heart attack — whichever comes first — I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Frank gave a long sigh.
“So she left.” Pete supplied as he poured another drink.
“Some guy down at the bank put a rock on her finger the size of the Empire State Building.” Frank shook his head. The wind outside howled the same way he had when he’d come home to find the so-long note she’d slipped under his door. “How was I supposed to give her that?”
“You seem like a guy who enjoys adventure, Frank.” Pete crossed his meaty arms and leaned against the shelf behind the bar. “Why tie yourself down to one girl? Nothing wrong with living a little.”
Lightning struck and an almost simultaneous boom rattled the bottles on the shelf. The lights flickered once and doused out. Frank’s heart skipped a beat or two before the pop and flare of a match brought him back.
“Nah. You’ve got plenty of time.” Pete lit candles around the bar, without breaking stride. The orange glow put his deep-set eyes in shadow, giving him an eerie countenance. “Go see the world. London! Paris! Who needs Poughkeepsie?”
“Yeah.” Frank nodded hard and the world kept moving up and down a few seconds even after he stopped. “Yeah!”
He slipped off the stool and had to grab onto the edge of the bar as the world tossed and turned around him.
“Easy there, Hoss.” Pete leaned over the bar, grabbing his arm. “No need to hurry off just yet. I got a couch in the back room, if ya wanna sleep it off.”
“No. Thanks.” Frank smashed his soggy Fedora back onto his head. “You said that hotel’s two miles up the road?”
“Left at the crossroads. Can’t miss it.”
“Okay then.” Frank tugged on his overcoat, steeling himself to make the dash through the pelting rain to his car. “I can make that. I’ll be fine.”
“Fine my ass.” Frank leaned forward and rubbed the edge of his coat sleeve on the windscreen. He made a little window in the fog that didn’t provide any help in the deluge. “May as well be driving in a waterfall.”
A glint of something caught his eye and he slammed on his brakes, skidding off the edge of the road and into a ditch. He came to a stop, a few inches from the bumper of a black Buick. Thinking of how close he’d come to turning himself into a pancake sobered him up in a jiffy.
A knock on the window made him jump.
He turned, all he could see was red.
Red dress. Red scarf. Red lips.
So much red.
He opened the door. Red shoved him across the seat and got in.
“Hey, thanks for stopping. Thought I was going to be stuck out here all night.”
“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.”
She scooted over, planting her supple ass in his lap as they swapped places. Feeling her hips against him woke things up that had been snoozing even before Sylvia left him. Red landed on the passenger end of the seat and he adjusted himself, thankful it was dark.
Frank pulled out and headed left at the sign.
“So what was wrong with your car?”
“Got a flat tire.”
“Bummer. I could have fixed it for you.”
“In this weather?”
“Well.…” Frank ran his hand through his thick hair, grateful in that moment that he hadn’t gone the way of his Pop yet and still had a full head.
“That’s what I thought.” Red grinned.
Frank grinned back. “Cats and dogs.”
“The rain. Like cats and dogs.” Frank shook his head. “Maybe I am a lightweight.”
“You stop for a drink at Pete’s?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“You’re not the first to come through here drunk on Pete’s finest. Happens all the time.”
“Oh.” He followed the lights on the hill, a bright beacon in the dark and stormy night.
As he wound up the long drive, the rain cleared to a drizzle and the full moon swept out from behind a cloud casting the enormous hotel in a bright glow.
Constructed in a traditional Gothic style, the place was stacked with more layers than a wedding cake, complete with all the lacy accents along the edges. Even though it was old in style, it didn’t have the weathered look or feel of the bar he’d just been in. The paint job was as fresh as if it had been done yesterday, which was impossible in this sort of weather.
“Wow. This is some swanky place.”
“It’s famous in these parts.”
She shrugged. “Some say so.”
“What do you say?”
Frank handed off the keys to a valet dressed in a fresh burgundy uniform, complete with gold-trimmed pillbox hat to match. He went around to open Red’s door but she was already out, waiting for him.
Frank headed through the enormous entryway, greeted by a concierge who took his one leather suitcase. The lobby floor was an intricate parquet design, no doubt hand-crafted and polished so slick it sparkled like glass. Tiffany lamps were placed around a waiting area, the emerald and sapphire glass of the shades casting a warm glow across the plum wing chairs.
A blonde at the desk put down her Nancy Drew and glanced up when he approached.
“Good evening, welcome to the Thornewood Hotel,” she said smoothly.
“Thank you. I’m going to need a room for the night.” He turned to ask Red if she was going to stay, or call for a tow.
But she’d vanished.
“Very good, sir.” The blonde squinted at him just a little before turning to open a cabinet. Hundreds of antique golden keys winked and sparkled at him as if they were inviting him to come stay in the corresponding rooms. “We have 217 available. King sized bed. Excellent view of the lake.”
Frank shrugged. “Sure. Sounds good.”
He turned and scanned the opulent lobby for any flash of Red, the lobby was vast, but open. Maybe she’d headed into the bar across the way for a nightcap. After spending so long stuck out in the awful weather, maybe she needed to warm up a little, calm her nerves.
Sure. That was it.
“Sorry.” Frank realized the woman had asked him a question. “What was that?”
“Will you be staying just the one night?”
“Yes.” He leaned in. “Did you see a pretty red-headed gal come in same time as me?”
The blonde pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows.
“No?” Frank patted the desk and handed over some cash for the room. “Okay then.”
“Have a good evening, sir. If you need anything, please feel free to call down.”
Frank made his way up the wide, carpeted staircase at the far end of the lobby. A golden sign directed him to the right. Room 217 was about halfway down a long hall. Everything was quiet and completely pristine. It was late, but there were no shoes out to be polished. No service dishes. The only people he’d seen or heard were employees.
Frank fitted the antique key into the lock. He turned, but nothing happened. He jiggled the key and tried again. He checked to make sure he had the right room.
“I hate how these old doors stick when it rains.”
Frank jumped back, nearly tripping over the carpet and ramming himself into the wall.
“My apologies,” Red grinned. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“I thought you left.”
“I’ve been here the whole time, Frank.”
Frank’s hand trembled as he tried the key again. It opened easily this time. Red stepped in first. A cool draft whispered across his skin as he entered the room.
He flicked on the light and frowned a little. “Wait, how did you know my name?”
“You wrote it in the register.” She grinned and sank down on the bed, pulling off her scarf and shaking out her bright crimson curls in a wave over her pale white shoulders.
“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?”
“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.
The pressure that he’d felt with Sylvia was gone. Lifted from his shoulders was the burden of being in love. Faye was light and easy, all he had to do was make love.
They finished and Frank dug a cigarette out of his coat pocket. She waved him off when he offered one.
“Suit yourself.” He lit the cigarette and sat on the edge of the bed facing the big window. The moonlight spilled through the curtains, illuminating the tiny flowers on the fresh wallpaper.
She traced her finger in small swirls along his back. It sent a shiver of ice up his spine, but he didn’t complain. It felt so good to be touched. To be wanted.
“I’m glad I came along when I did,” he said quietly.
“Me too,” she murmured. “You’re one in a million, Frank.”
“No, really.” She propped her head up on her hand.
“Well, thanks.” He finished his cigarette and crawled back between the cool sheets.
She lay her head on his chest, and for the first time in ages, he fell asleep looking forward to the next day.
The harsh ring of the phone woke him. Frank rolled over in the bed and reached for it without opening his eyes.
“Yep,” he grumbled.
“Who’s this?” He scrubbed his face, holding the receiver away from his ear a little. The voice on the line was too loud. Or maybe it was just the splitting headache he had, making the world seem like it was against him.
“Pete here. Just wanted to check in and see if you made it up to the hotel all right. You were looking pretty rough when you headed out.”
“I made it. Thanks,” Frank said. He grinned remembering the night before. “Made a new friend, too.”
He opened his eyes to an empty bed. Empty room. Frank got up and brought the phone with him to check the bathroom. Empty.
“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?”
“Listen, come on back to the bar. I’ll make you breakfast. I’ve got a great cure for a hangover. What do you say?”
“See you soon.”
Frank hung up the phone. He stared at the wallpaper some more, wondering how she could have felt so real. Sure, she’d suckered him into a ride. In more ways than one. But how had she noticed him? It had to be more than his looks.
Maybe she was just looking for another ghost.
Frank sighed and pulled on his pants. He yanked on his undershirt, wondering why the Big Guy Upstairs had to be such a jerk sometimes. He wondered if he was going crazy. He stared at his face in the mirror, and noticed the smear of cherry bomb lipstick on his collar.
About the Author
Sarah 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.