Tuesday, April 16, 2019
By Daniel Skye
PART TWO: THE FURNACE
Stephen Rhodes covered the body of Warren Holly with a thick, dark comforter to hide all the blood and locked Room 11 from the outside.
They tried their cell phones first. No bars. Reception was always weak inside the walls of the Starlight. Often times Stephen had to venture outside to get a stronger connection. No way either one of them were stepping outside in this storm, even if they could get out with all the snow piled up against the doors.
The accumulated snow was waist high and still falling rapidly, and the temperature had dropped to single digits. It could take days for the town to clear all the roads.
Diana Rhodes tried the landline, but there was no dial tone.
“Fuck,” she muttered. “The storm must’ve taken out the phone lines.”
“At least we have power,” Stephen said, trying to find some silver lining. “Don’t worry. We’ll notify the police as soon as we can. In the meantime, take the key to Room 11. Nobody goes in there unless it’s you or me.”
“Should we alert Ms. Tremont? Or any of the other residents?”
“Ms. Tremont can barely remember her name. I’ll mention it to Lisa later. We can trust her. And I wouldn’t breathe a word about it to Mr. Spiegel. I don’t trust him. He spends all that time locked up in his room. Who knows what he’s up to in there.”
“You think that Mr. Spiegel had something to do with this?”
“Did you see how his throat was ripped apart? Somebody did that to him, mom. And it sure as hell wasn’t you or me. And it definitely wasn’t Sara.”
His mind jumped back again to his little sister, to the doll that was left behind.
She told me her name was Zelda, his sister had said.
Zelda bites. She has teeth.
Stephen went to his room, rolled a joint and smoked to clear the fog from his mind and figure out the next move. He checked in with his mother a short while later.
“How are you holding up?” he asked her.
“I have no idea. How are you doing, kiddo?”
“Could be worse. Where’s Sara?”
“Playing with her dolls. Kids. They have no concept of death. To her it’s like nothing ever happened.”
“Keep an eye on her.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Just keep an eye on her. Watch her closely. It’ll be morning soon. I’ll talk to Lisa then. You haven’t said a word about this to Ms. Tremont or Mr. Spiegel, have you?”
“No. Maybe we should keep it that way.”
Basements are naturally creepy places, don’t you agree? Dark, musty, moldy, dirty, dusty, riddled with cobwebs and crawling with spiders, or the occasional crickets. Rats scampering through the walls like they’re trapped in a maze.
The basement of the Starlight Inn always gave Stephen the willies. But he had to put that fear aside if he was going to get to the bottom of this.
It was early morning when Stephen and Lisa Ambrose went downstairs, the Ouija board tucked under one her arms. Stephen had told her everything about Mr. Holly. It only added to her trepidation about messing around with the Ouija board, and Lisa was not one to startle easily.
They sat Indian style and placed their hands in the center of the board, atop the planchette.
“Is there anyone in the room with us?”
The planchette nearly ripped from their hands as it slid across the board. It circled around the word YES.
“What is your name?”
The planchette skated across the board. They did their best to keep their grip. The thing had a mind of its own. There was indeed a presence in their midst. Powerful. Undeniable. He could feel the negative energy in the air, like static electricity. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and his arms break out in gooseflesh.
They watched as the spirit spelled out their name.
They exchanged looks of disbelief.
“Aviana, who killed you?”
The planchette danced all over the board, circling the letters.
“Maniwa?” he whispered, then repeated it. “Maniwa. Maniwa. Why does that sound so familiar? I’ve heard that name before.”
“Aviana, where are you?” Lisa inquired.
She left them with one final cryptic message.
CHECK THE FURNACE
Lisa kept her distance as Stephen sifted through the soot and ashes in the furnace. That wasn’t all he found.
He found bones, and fragments of teeth. And among the scorched remains, he discovered an old locket that he recognized as the one Aviana Phillips had draped around her thin, swan-like neck.
He turned to Lisa, looking as pale as the ghost he had encountered the night before. “Don’t breathe a word about this to anyone. Are we clear?”
“Crystal clear,” she nodded.
“If I were you, I’d go back upstairs and stay in your room. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have an itch I need to scratch.”
Stephen met up with her later to discuss his recent findings.
“I can’t get any service. No internet, no reception. But I found some old newspapers we keep for burning in the fireplace. Nick and Toby Maniwa were brothers, about our age. They lived in the area. They both went missing, presumably around the same time Aviana was murdered.”
“You think they killed her and ran?”
“Either that, or they’re still here…”
“You can’t be serious. I’m curious, but I’m not using that Ouija board again in this hotel. If the Maniwa brothers died here and their spirits are roaming the hallways, I’ll find out.”
“My grandma. She knows way more about this stuff then we do. Time to call in the big guns. I’ll get back to you soon. Don’t go too far.”
It was around noon when Stephen decided to check in with Gloria Tremont. He hadn’t seen her since the previous afternoon, when he found her wandering outside in a daze, mumbling about some unseen entity she referred to as Mr. Oblivion. He had an itch. And where there was an itch, there was a desire to scratch it.
He knocked on her door. No response. But Stephen had the master key that opened every door in the Starlight Inn.
“Ms. Tremont? Ms. Tremont? I’m coming in.”
He braced himself for the possibility of seeing Ms. Tremont in her birthday suit. But the room was empty. It reeked of stale smoke and her ashtray was filled to the brim with cigarette butts.
It’s a miracle she hasn’t burned this place down, he thought.
He checked the bathroom. Empty. He checked the sides of the bed in case she fell off. He even checked underneath the bed and looked inside the closet. Nothing. No sign of Ms. Tremont.
“I hope she didn’t wander outside again.”
He recoiled at his own reflection in the mirror, twisted and distorted. He watched as the mirror changed before his very eyes, transforming into a black abyss.
“Hello, Stephen,” said a voice that was anything but human.
“I must be hallucinating. My dealer laced the weed. That’s the only reasonable explanation.”
“No hallucination, I’m afraid. I’m speaking to you from the void. Ms. Tremont says hello.”
“Where is she!?”
“She’s in here, with us.”
“She’s in the mirror? This is a nightmare. It’s just a bad dream. Come on, Stephen. Wake up! Wake up!”
“You’re not dreaming, Stephen. But you are trapped in a nightmare. I can explain, but I won’t. It’s more fun that way. Don’t worry about Ms. Tremont. She’s with the others.”
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am. Ms. Tremont told you my name.”
“And I’m not alone. We have been here even longer than you can imagine. And we grow tired of this realm.”
“We? Who are we?”
“The Forgotten Ones.”
“Who else is in there with you? The Maniwa brothers? Aviana Phillips? Let me guess, is Reed Bennett in there too?”
“Reed is a loyal puppet. An integral part of the Forgotten Ones. But I’m afraid Mr. Bennett’s spirit is elsewhere. You won’t have to look too hard to find it. By the way, Stephen, you really should go check on Mr. Spiegel.”
It wasn’t long before Stephen checked back with Lisa. He wanted to make sure she was okay, and more than anything else, he needed clarity. He needed someone to help him make sense of all this.
“My grandma says that Nick and Toby Maniwa are here,” she informed him.
“So you’re saying this place is haunted?”
“Not quite. When somebody dies, it’s possible that they open a gateway, a portal to another side. Who knows what can squeeze its way out of that gateway. Who knows if the gateway ever closes.”
“That’s not the problem.”
“Then what is?”
“Ms. Tremont is missing. And I just had a conversation with an entity called Mr. Oblivion. I’m pretty sure I should be in a straitjacket right now.”
“On any other day, I’d agree with you. But there’s something going on here beyond our understanding, even beyond our reality. And the Ouija board isn’t going to cut it. And my grandma is too old and too weak to help us. We’re on our own.”
“You have a plan?”
“We can try and summon this entity with a séance or an act of evocation.”
“Why would we do that?”
“We get it to expose itself so we can destroy it.”
“Destroy it with what? A fire extinguisher? Cutlery? A barrage of snowballs?”
“No, with this.”
She took out and unfolded an ancient looking cloth to reveal a crescent shaped blade with a blunt wooden handle.
“A knife? We have plenty of kitchen knives.”
“This is a boline, passed down to my grandma. It once belonged to a powerful warlock, or so she claims. They say his essence is trapped within. His power is enough to rival even the toughest demons. This blade is our only chance. Unless you’ve got a better idea. I’m open to suggestions.”
“Give me some time,” Stephen requested. “I need to think this through. And don’t go doing anything without me. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“I didn’t know you cared,” she said and almost blushed.
The Starlight Inn had four fulltime residents. Gloria Tremont, Lisa Ambrose and her grandmother, Esmeralda, and Simon Spiegel.
Mr. Spiegel resided in Room 39. Stephen knocked several times with no reply, then he let himself in.
Standing in the far corner of the room was a face he recognized only from old pictures and newspapers. Reed Bennet. Or the ghastly apparition formerly known as Reed Bennett. The man who had killed dozens of innocent people before taking his own life in that very hotel.
“They thought I was a madman,” Reed spoke. “They thought I was the face of evil. But I have looked evil in the face, stared deep into its fiery eyes. And that is the source of all evil. Evil has a face. And that face is death personified.”
And as quickly as Bennett appeared, he was gone. Evaporated into the walls. And all that was left was the terrible screech that emanated from the other end of the hall.
Stephen bolted from the room, running as fast as his legs could keep up.
“Sara is gone!” his mother shrieked when he reached the den. The fire was going and the flames danced and swayed with the heavy winds that blew down the chimney.
“Mom, listen to me and listen to me very carefully. Go to your room and lock the doors. Do not come out under any circumstances. No matter what you see or what you hear. And stay away from the mirrors.”
“Stephen, what the hell is going on here?”
“I can’t even begin to explain. Please just do what I say. It’s for your safety. I’ll find Sara. I promise, I won’t let anything happen to her.”
He ran up and down every hall, every corridor, checked every unoccupied room. The only place left was the basement. He stood in front of that tall, red door and steeled himself for what horrific sights awaited him downstairs.
But a noise at the other end of the hall made him freeze like the fallen snow outside. Footsteps.
Not heavy footsteps. Not the footsteps of a man. Not even the sound of his little sister. This was a light tapping sound, like somebody tip-toeing through the first floor of the Inn.
He turned and caught a brief glimpse at the end of the hall as it ran across the adjacent corridor.
He chased after it. His eyes had to see it to believe it. And there it was. Its black, button eyes had come to life. Its stuffing had turned to flesh. Its arms and legs were malleable.
The dolls head spun around without turning its body. Its mouth dropped open, revealing its thin, needle-like teeth.
Zelda has teeth. She bites.
There was no time to react. He had to formulate a plan in mere seconds. He turned and ran, and the doll followed. Its tiny feet skittered across the floor like a cockroach.
He led it to the den, where the fire was still roaring. He grabbed the fireplace poker and stood his ground, let it get close enough.
Then he rammed that poker through its fleshly exterior and hurled it into the fire. He closed the mesh cover and let the flames consume it.
A round of applause stunned Stephen. He twisted around and saw Reed Bennett standing beside the sofa. A pale, sickly man with gray, dead eyes. A shell of his former self, but every bit as threatening as he was when he was alive.
“Well done, Stephen. And thanks for getting me out of that ‘body.’ But what are you planning to do about him?”
He pointed with one thin, bony finger to the man standing in the threshold of the den door. Simon Spiegel was standing in Stephen’s way, brandishing a fire ax.
His eyes were as gray and numb as Reed’s. Something had taken hold of him, possessed his mind, body, and soul. He was no longer in control of his actions. Mr. Oblivion was calling the shots, pulling his strings like a puppet.
“Mr. Spiegel, please, if you can hear me, if you’re in there, you have to fight it. Don’t let him win. Don’t let him take you over. You’re a man of free will. You’re not one of Oblivion’s puppets. Fight it! Fight it!”
“Ahhhhhhh!” Simon Spiegel came charging with the ax. Stephen dove over the couch, rolled to the doorway, and got back to his feet. Then he ran like hell, Spiegel chasing him every step of the way, the ax cutting through the air, coming mere inches from Stephen’s head.
He turned one corridor, fumbling for the master key in his pocket. He pulled it out, but it slipped from his trembling hand. He went to pick it up, and that was the only thing that saved his life as the ax was buried into the wall, ripping through the plaster and molding.
He retrieved and key and his legs burned as he took off. Spiegel struggled momentarily with the ax before he jerked it from the wall.
Spiegel was relentless as he gave chase again, never stopping, never slowing down, never running short of breath.
Stephen reached another corridor and went right.
With his back against the wall, Stephen feared this was the end. He wanted to cry out for help, but his throat was drier than a desert, his tongue like sandpaper.
“HEY!” a voice shouted.
Simon Spiegel spun around and boline ripped across his throat with one quick slash. The blood spurted from his neck in fast jets as he dropped the ax and crumpled to his knees.
Stephen sighed heavily. “I owe you one.”
“You owe me a lot more than that. But I’ll let it slide for now.”
“Mr. Oblivion has Sara. I have to go in and find here.”
“Go in where?”
“Into the mirror…Into the void.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Thursday, April 11, 2019
By Daniel Skye
PART ONE: ZELDA
Blood has a smell.
It smells like copper, like a dirty penny.
That’s the first thing Stephen Rhodes smelled when he awoke in what could only be described as a river of blood.
The room was quiet and dark. But he could feel it all over him. He could smell it. He could taste that bitter, metallic sting as it assaulted his senses. And that’s not all he smelled.
As his eyes adjusted, he identified the source of all the blood. He saw the bodies, piled up in the center of the room, stacked atop one another, like a human plateau. He could smell their rotting, maggot infested corpses as the stench of decay permeated the room. The smell of death.
Deaths pungent perfume lingered in any every nook and cranny.
Deaths pungent perfume lingered in any every nook and cranny.
In the darkest corner of the room, he saw a tall figure in a faded polyester suit, its back turned to him.
Not a man, not exactly. Its shape resembled that of a human. But there were irregularities in its shape and size, and the length of its appendages.
Its hands were at its sides, with its symmetrical fingers visible. All ten fingers were exactly the same length, roughly seven or eight inches long if Stephen had to guess. Its angular legs were bent at the knees and turned out to the sides, resembling a spiders curved appendages.
The figure turned and all that was visible in the shadows were its eyes. Orange flames danced in its hollow, otherwise empty sockets. It crept forward, blood splashing with every step it took. It reached out with its long, ragged fingers to touch Stephen’s face. Then–
Then Stephen snapped awake. He looked around and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he realized he was in his own bed.
“Just a dream,” he said, breathing laboriously. “Just a dream,” he repeated to reassure himself.
He glanced out and window and groaned at the sight of falling snow. The weatherman had been predicting snow for weeks. Who would’ve guessed that he was actually right this time?
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered. He sat up in bed and threw off the covers. It took a few seconds for him to shake off the cobwebs. His eyes were still crusted with sleep glue. He got up and slowly got dressed, making sure to put on a pair of thermals before he put on his pants. Then a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, and finally his jacket and gloves. He saved the boots for last. Stephen inched closer to the window and saw how much snow had already accumulated. He groaned again. He had his work cut out for him.
The cold pierced him to the bone and took his breath away. But Stephen Rhodes kept shoveling and scraping away, long after his toes went numb inside his boots and his fingertips started turning a frosty blue under his gloves. Falling snowflakes stung at his face like pesky insects. He was on the verge of turning into a human Popsicle.
The effort was an exercise in futility, but he had to try and keep up with it. The snow was knee-high, and they would be waist deep in it by the afternoon. Soon, the Starlight Inn would be buried and they’d be trapped inside for days.
Major cabin fever.
But Stephen would survive as long as he had his tunes and his stash.
His teeth chattered like the novelty teeth you buy at a joke store as he watched the snow fall and mount at a rapid pace. If he stayed outside a few minutes longer, his bones would freeze and shatter like delicate glass. He sighed, admitted defeat, and called it a day.
He was walking up to the front office of the Inn when he saw Ms. Tremont blocking the doorway as she gazed skyward.
Gloria Tremont was a widow and she’d been living at the Inn so long that Stephen thought of her as a permanent fixture. Stephen’s mother worked out a deal with her children. She was only charging 100 a week. Cheaper than a nursing home, Stephen supposed.
Ms. Tremont gave no sign she recognized her home. More alarming, was the fact that she was standing outside in nothing more than her bathrobe and slippers. Her teeth chattered and Stephen couldn’t tell if she was muttering to herself or shivering in the cold.
“Ms. Tremont,” Stephen said, quiet enough not to startle her. “What are you doing out here?”
“I was hiding,” she said. Oh no, Stephen thought. Her mind is slipping. Pretty soon Ms. Tremont won’t recognize our faces.
“There’s nothing to hide from, Ms. Tremont. It’s just you, me, my sister, my mom, and Mrs. Ambrose and her granddaughter. And Mr. Spiegel. But he always keeps to himself. The last guests left before the storm hit.”
“I was hiding from him,” she trembled. “The man in the mirror. He tells me things, Stephen. Horrible things. Things I don’t want to hear.”
“Uh huh. And does this mirror man have a man?”
“Mr. Oblivion,” she leaned in and whispered it, and her eyes lit up with fear.
“Mr. Oblivion,” he repeated. “Sounds like a super villain.”
“What’s a super village?”
“Never mind. Let’s get you inside before you catch a cold.”
“I saw you helping Ms. Tremont before,” Diana Rhodes told her son. “Is she all right?”
“Define all right. I think its dementia. She was staring up at the sky like she was waiting for something to arrive. And she didn’t seem to recognize the Inn at all. She said she was hiding from a man inside her mirror.”
“You’ve heard her talk about it?”
“Yes, but I was hoping she’d snap out of it or get better on her own. Clearly that’s not the case here. Poor Ms. Tremont. I should contact her family. They have a right to know.”
The Starlight had four fulltime residents. Gloria Tremont, Esmerelda Ambrose and her granddaughter, Lisa. And the enigmatic Simon Spiegel.
“At least she isn’t talking about ghosts roaming the hallways anymore. She scared Sara half to death with that story.”
The concept of ghosts or spirits didn’t stir Steven. He’d read plenty of alleged stories about poltergeists causing disturbances in people’s houses. Poltergeists aren’t real, Stephen thought. And if they were, they don’t seem so bad. What’s the worst they do? Move things around or knock your stuff over? Cats do that all the time. Poltergeists are just invisible cats to me.
Almost as if she was waiting for her cue to make a grand entrance, Sara trotted in with a raggedy looking stuffed doll with black button eyes tucked under her tiny arm.
“Mommy, can I keep her?”
“You mean the doll?”
“The last guests left her behind. Can I keep her, please? Please, please, please?”
“For now,” her mother said. “But if the family comes back to claim it, you have to give it back.”
“Nobody ever comes back here.”
Nothing packed a stiffer punch than a child’s brutal honesty. And Sara was a little too honest for her age.
“Well we don’t need them,” Diana said. “Tell you what, we’re going to make a big fire tonight and roast marshmallows and watch movies until we all fall asleep. Sound fun?”
“Yeah!” Sara exclaimed and scrambled with her new dolly in hand to the cupboard where her mom kept the marshmallows. Stephen excused himself.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Check the registry.”
“Curious about something.”
He went through the registry archives, going back to when Ms. Tremont moved in. He found no results for a Mr. Oblivion in the registry, not like he really expected to find anything. It was just an itch he needed to scratch. Perhaps a Mr. O’Blivion had stayed once. The name could easily be real.
There was a Mr. O’Bannon, a Mr. O’Brien, and a Mr. O’Boyle. But no Mr. Oblivion. One entry in particular caught his eye. About two weeks after Ms. Tremont moved in. He didn’t recognize the handwriting. It wasn’t his mom’s or his own. The man had signed his name as Gene Warburton, a name that instantly clicked with Stephen.
“Interesting,” he muttered. “The plot thickens.”
He walked to the nearest mirror and got close. “Hey, Mr. Oblivion, you hiding in there?” he said to his own reflection in the mirror. “Knock, knock,” he tapped the glass. “I guess you don’t want to talk, huh? Well don’t you go picking on sweet old ladies like Ms. Tremont. She doesn’t need you bothering her, okay?”
The lights blinked.
The lights flickered, then steadied. Flickered, steadied.
High and low, high and low, high and low. Dimming and rising. Dimming and rising.
Shit, the weather is already messing with the power. We better not have a blackout.
The lights snapped back on and he saw the briefest glimpse of a hideous, deformed man in the mirror. A man in a polyester suit. The thing from his dream.
He recoiled, stumbling back and nearly knocking Sara over. She was still clutching her new doll at her side.
“Who were you talking to?” Sara asked.
“Myself, apparently. What are you doing sneaking around?”
“Zelda was bored.”
“Where’d you come up with a name like that?”
“That’s what she told me her name was.”
“Sure,” he said, rolling his eyes. “So are you going to do whatever Zelda wants you to do?”
“Of course. She’s my best friend.”
“Ouch. I thought I was your best friend.”
“My brother is my best friend? That’s sooooo lame.”
“Alright, get out of here before I bury Zelda in the snow.”
“You better watch what you say about her. Zelda bites. She has teeth.”
Sure, whatever you say, kid. Zelda bites. Real original. I’m shaking in my snow boots.
The Starlight Inn had a long and colorful history. Built in the early 1900’s, the Starlight was originally known as the Redwood Lodge. Its proprietor, Eric Ainsworth and his family vanished without a trace back in 1924. So did several guests who hadn’t signed out of the registry. It lied dormant and empty until the 50’s, when it was purchased by Gene Warburton, who committed suicide in 1984. It was purchased again by a group of wealthy investors who turned it into the Starlight and tried to erase its dark past.
The value dropped and it eventually changed hands and landed in Diana Rhodes’ lap. There were other stories, some even darker than the ones that were common or public knowledge. Like the man who had caught his wife in bed with her co-worker and hacked them to bits with a fire axe. Or the maid who stabbed her own eyes out with a pair of scissors. God only knows why or what she had seen that reduced her to such a horrific act.
Then there was Billy Silverman, the little boy who had gone missing when his parents were in the middle of a heated argument. They assumed the boy had wandered off because he didn’t want to witness them fighting, but they searched the grounds and couldn’t find him. The cops were called and they questioned the staff and the guests. But there was nothing out of the ordinary. Nobody had seen or heard the kid on the night of his disappearance. It was like he evaporated through the walls. Or…got pulled through a mirror, Stephen thought.
And he couldn’t forget about Reed Bennett. The cold blooded serial killer who was staying at the Starlight when the police attempted to apprehend him. Like Gene Warburton, Reed Bennett had taken his own life.
Wow, that Mr. Oblivion story really got under your skin. Get ahold of yourself, dude. Ms. Tremont is off her rocker. Don’t let her drive you crazy too. You’re going to end up just like her.
“Oh my God!” Diana screamed.
“MOM!” He ran down the long, narrow oak plastered hallway.
“Mom are you–”
“Oh, Stephen, she sighed. “Sorry if I gave you a jump. This is Mr…”
“Holly. Warren Holly,” the man introduced himself. He had bushy, unkempt hair that was dented a bit in the middle by a receding hairline and gray, almost silvery eyes that reflected everything around him.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. There was nobody in the front office so I wandered through the back, looking for someone to check in with.”
Outside, the wind moaned as it passed through the frozen streets and icy roads.
He warmed himself by the fire and sipped hot tea that Diana had brought him.
“I can’t thank you enough,” Holly said. “I’m so lucky I found this place. I thought I was a goner out there.”
“What exactly happened?” Diana asked.
“Hit a patch of ice and my car slid right off the road. It’s totaled. But I wasn’t hurt. So I walked in that bitter snowstorm for half a mile. Didn’t see any other cars or buildings or gas stations. I thought I was going to freeze out there. Then I saw the Inn. But…”
“But?” Diana asked, curious. Something seemed to be troubling this man.
“I think it was just my mind playing tricks on me. But I thought I saw someone standing outside the Inn.”
“Ms. Tremont,” Stephen said. “I should go check outside.”
“No, it wasn’t a woman. It was a man. At least, I could’ve sworn it was a man. Looked like he was wearing a polyester suit. I looked away for a second and he was gone. I guess my eyes were just playing tricks on me.” Stephen tensed, gritted his teeth, almost bit down on his tongue.
“In town on business, are you?” Diana asked.
“I was. I guess I’ll have to stay tonight. Then when they plow the streets, I’ll get my car towed and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Oh boy, what is it?”
“This is a very small town, kind of forgotten. They usually don’t plow the streets right away when it snow is this bad. They take forever. Could be two or three days before they get up here.”
“Two or three days? Son of a…”
“But I can give you a generous discount.”
“Got a kitchen?”
“Just for personal use. But I am one hell of a cook. I’ll whip something up for you. Let’s get you settled in first and then I’ll fix you something.”
“Mothers,” he sighed warmly. “Got to love them.”
Diana Rhodes fixed Warren Holly something to eat and fetched the key to his room. Then she settled in with Sara to watch a movie.
Stephen chose not to join in with movie night. He had other plans for the evening, which consisted of smoking pot and brooding over the mention of Mr. Oblivion. Ms. Tremont could qualify for crazy, but what if she was onto something? And what about the man that Warren Holly had mentioned. The one who seemed to vanish into thin air. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Stephen had always felt a strange, ominous presence residing in the Inn. The whole place gave him a Shining type vibe. His mother picked up on it too. Though she was more of a believer in the paranormal and the supernatural than Stephen ever was as a child. She’d tell him ghost stories as a kid, some of them occurring in that very Inn they now called their home.
“Pssst, pass that J. Let me get a hit.”
“Who the hell are you?” Stephen exclaimed, nearly leaping out of his own skin. “How did you get–”
“Relax, dude. Name’s Aviana. I slipped away from my parents before they hit the road. I’ve been hiding in their room and wandering the halls ever since. Nice place.”
“Your parents are probably freaking out right now.”
“My parents argue non-stop. It’ll be hours before they notice I’m gone. And with the snow, they won’t be able to turn around. They’ll have to wait for the roads to clear up.”
“Well, you can’t stay. My family doesn’t need any trouble here. You have to go.”
“Go where? The snow is up to my waist. I’ll freeze to death. Come on, man. Have a heart. If it’s about money, my dad will pay for the room.”
“It’s not about…never mind. You’re right. It’s too cold outside for you to go anywhere. You can stay here, for now. But we’re getting in touch with your parents as soon as the storm lets up.”
“You’re like a parent in the body of a teenager.”
“My dad left us a long time ago. I’ve been man of the house ever since.”
“More like man of the motel.”
“Very clever. Oh, by the way, I guess you’re younger sister left her doll behind.”
“Figures. My parents will probably come back for the doll before they come back for me.”
“That bad huh?”
“I barely exist to them. To anybody, for that matter.”
“You sound so melodramatic.”
“So are you gonna share that joint or what?”
She was only a year or two younger than Stephen, with raven colored hair, a septum ring, and a pallid complexion. An old fashioned locket was draped around her neck and seemed oddly out of place.
They smoked and talked. Stephen got to know Aviana better, about her family and her friends, or lack of friends. How cruel the kids at school were. How nobody paid any attention to her, how she was invisible to everyone around her. She told him about her grandparents, who she seemed closer to than her actual parents.
But Stephen was really curious about the locket around her neck. Necklaces or bracelets were common accessories for women of all ages, even anklets, watches or charms. Religious girls wore crosses or crucifixes. But you never really saw a teenager wearing a locket. It was so archaic, so old fashioned. He kind of liked that about her. She had an old fashioned vibe, as if time had completely forgotten about her.
“So, do you want to be a gentleman and give me the grand tour?”
“Of this dump?”
“Come on, I want to check it out. This place kind of gives me the creeps, like something out of a Stephen King story. And I love horror movies.”
“Boy, you really are a weird one.”
“Weird is the new normal.”
“Says you. Come on, let’s go. I’ll show you around. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“Do you say that to all the girls?”
“You’re already starting to get on my nerves.”
Stephen felt like a creep leading her down to the basement. But there was nothing sinister in his motives. This was the end of the tour. He hit the switch and fluorescent lights hummed their insipid tune.
“What’s behind that door?”
“That’s the furnace.”
“Can we check it out? I’m getting a really weird vibe from this room.”
A lump formed in his throat. He tasted bile, like acid being poured down the back of his throat. Stephen always got a weird vibe when he walked past that door. And now he wasn’t too sure he wanted to go poking around in there with a total stranger.
The fluorescents ceased humming as the light fluttered and faded.
“Fuck, must be from the storm. Or maybe someone hit a utility pole and took down the power lines. The generator should kick on any second.”
The generator whirred and kicked in hard and the lights flickered as the fluorescents readjusted.
“Aviana?” he called. “Aviana?”
But Aviana was gone. And for the briefest of moments, Steven wondered if she was ever really there to begin with.
“Can we talk?” Stephen asked Lisa Ambrose.
Lisa and her grandmother were fulltime residents at the Starlight Inn, along with Ms. Tremont and Mr. Spiegel. Esmerelda Ambrose was ancient. But she still had her wits about her. She was sharper and more coherent than Ms. Tremont, but that wasn’t saying much.
“What’s the matter?” Lisa asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I actually may have. Have you seen Aviana?”
“A young girl, about our age. Dark hair, pale skin. She ditched her family and stuck around. I was downstairs with her when she took off. Like she–”
“Vanished into thin air,” she said, finishing his thought.
“Have you seen her?”
“Was her name Aviana Phillips?”
“She didn’t mention her last name.”
“Stephen, Aviana Phillips has been missing forever. We were in high school together. She disappeared our freshman year.”
“Before she pulled the Batman vanishing act, she wanted to go into the furnace room.”
“Then that’s where we’re going,” Lisa insisted. “But not tonight. It’s late and I’m feeling some bad mojo in the air. Tomorrow, in the daytime, we’ll check it out. Oh, and just so you know, I’m bringing my grandma’s Ouija board.”
Stephen woke in the dead of night. The first thing he noticed was the precipitous change in room temperature. The heat was cranked up full blast, but the room was an icebox. The cold air circulated, wrapping around him like a wet blanket.
The second thing he took note of were the bloodcurdling screams from down the hall. He raced to the end of the hall and saw his mother shaking like the last leaf on the dying tree. Her mouth was wide, eyes bulging.
“What is it, mom? What’s going on?”
“Mr. Holly…he’s, he’s…oh I’m going to be sick…”
Stephen decided to see for himself, but soon wished he hadn’t. Warren Holly was in Room 11, tucked away in bed, the sheets splattered with blood.
His throat was cut, or so it appeared. It wasn’t until he got closer than he realized his throat had been torn open, the work of a rabid animal.
Zelda bites, he remembered his sister’s words. She has teeth.
TO BE CONTINUED