Welcome to day EIGHTEEN of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!
Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s scare comes from room #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?”
“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.