Welcome to day twenty-four of the Haunted Hotel Writer and Illustrator showcase!
Come back each day, the entire month of October for a scare! Today’s story comes from room #665!
“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:
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
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.