There are some places in this world where it would be forgivable to believe you may have stepped through a rift in time, where it can seem that the passage of decades goes by pleasantly unobserved by the denizens that occupy them, while also being small enough to remain unnoticed by the areas surrounding them. Other places seem to exude an almost otherworldly energy, whether it is overwhelmingly positive or unshakably negative depends entirely on who you ask, of course.
Over the past few years, I’d spent much of my time enjoying the many offerings found in the bustling cities up North. However, life in the city eventually grew unfulfilling, and I began to romanticize about the quieter, picturesque landscapes of the South. I’d daydream about finding a place not so far removed from nature, a place where the spirit of nature could still thrive.
I had no earthly idea what I was in for.
I had been thumbing it for a while, and with the help of several friendly truckers and a cantankerous old melon farmer named Dave in his little pickup truck, I’d managed to finish descending from the mountainous reaches of Virginia and made my way into the rolling foothills of Eastern North Carolina.
The air was humid, but fresh, and made the cool breeze that swept through my hair that much more invigorating. I had never seen such massive stretches of tobacco before in my life, nor a more eclectic collection of automobiles of seemingly every era passing by, some of which still looked as though they’d just rolled off of the lot.
Cruising down the curves of the bleached pavement of Highway 87 in the back of that pickup, I found myself enthralled by a pair of small wooden structures that were in a nearby field. They were clearly holdouts from the past century, their history having been etched across their weathered brown boards which appeared to be trapped in an eternal mid-collapse atop one another, and the nearby congregation of rusted-out farm equipment surrounding the husk of a Model-T that now only served as ornamentation in the vacant field. They were all reminders of the days long since passed.
Dave pulled the red Silverado off to the side of the road and wrenched the truck’s gear into park with an audible whine. I waved away the plume of red dirt lingering in the air and climbed over the tailgate of the truck to the ground below.
I looked up ahead and saw that Dave had parked us close to the outskirts of a quaint little town. It didn’t really look like much from where I was standing, but it was better than nothing. I walked up to the driver’s side window of the cab as Dave forced down the window with a series of effortful cranks before poking his old head out, nearly knocking off his worn camouflage ball cap in the process. His sky-blue eyes were bright and wide, as well as a little mischievous when combined with his toothy grin.
“Well, I guess this is where we part ways, hombre, I’ve got to go pick up the old lady some new seeds from the store before she has a conniption!” Dave said as he rolled his eyes dramatically. His Appalachian accent added extra emphasis to his words.
“Alright, thanks again for the lift. I appreciate it,” I said.
“Think nothing of it, just be careful out here. Some of the townsfolks are kind of…you know,” Dave said. He circled a finger around his temple and whistled sharply.
“I’ll do my best. As long as they have a hotel here, I should be A-Okay.”
“The only one that I’m certain is still open is the ol’ Delilah Inn. Just keep a watch out for anything weird there, okay?” Dave said.
I was slightly taken aback by Dave’s blunt nature and raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I was the local telephone man around these parts back in ‘72 before I was able to get the hell away from here. I was working on a job at the hotel, simple stuff, just running some line throughout the place, but I caught sight of a whole heap of black cords running up into the walls of the the rooms. I followed them back, and they were all hooked up to these stacks of tape decks in a weird basement.”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“As a heart attack. I never found cameras though. I got out of there and reported it to my supervisor as soon as I finished my work. He claimed he ‘took care of it.’ It didn’t look that way to me though, no sir. He probably buried it, the little bastard. Either way, I never took an assignment in that town again, and I certainly never took the wife or young’uns anywhere near the place. I didn’t want some pervert patting his jimmy to me or mine.”
“I can’t blame you for that, and thanks for the heads up. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out,” I said.
With that, the brief seriousness that had covered Dave’s face abated, and he started grinning once more.
“Take care of yourself, kid," he said, then reached out his large, leathery hand and clasped it around mine, giving me a surprisingly powerful shake.
“You too," I said as I returned the friendly grip, then stepped back so he had enough room to pull off safely.
With a series of squeaks, the wobbly window rolled back up and Dave gave me a friendly wink before turning his attention back to his truck. Even through the glass, I could hear Dave grunt as he forced the gearshift into ‘drive’ before he whipped the truck around and took off down the highway back the way he’d came. I gave him one last wave goodbye before turning around and proceeding onward into town.
‘Greetings from Delilah!’ The bullet-riddled sign beckoned in a fading white font. I didn’t terribly welcome.
As soon as I crossed into the weathered green sign signaling the town limits of Delilah, I felt a row of goosebumps began trailing up my forearms. I was half-tempted to try and flag Dave down again, but I kept on walking. As I walked over a pair of rusty train tracks, I began to see the town more clearly.
Despite the air of creepiness, it looked like just your standard little town. I could see what I assumed was Main Street, with its rows of brick Mom ‘N Pop shops lining either side with the odd car parked here and there.
I saw a few people milling about, wandering from shop to shop like some kind of vengeful spirit. They didn’t look the like most friendly folks, but they weren’t brandishing pitchforks either, though when they noticed me, their eyes stayed locked onto me until they reached the next store. It was disconcerting to say the least.
That's when I noticed that they had a small K-Mart at the other end of the street. The place can’t be all that bad. What kind of evil town has a K-Mart?
‘Aw man, I am driven to kill by an mysterious force, but my budget is super tight.’ I could imagine one of the townsfolk saying. ‘Better put this shotgun on Layaway so that I can get my murder spree on in 8-12 weeks. Oh, it’s a Blue Light Special, too?! Nice!’
I snickered at my stupid thought, and started to put my worries out of my mind. I kept walking towards Main Street, stepped up the concrete curb and followed the sidewalk as I looked around. The leftmost of the two tall rows of brick buildings had an old Coca-Cola advertisement painted along its side, the colors were faded and flaking, but that didn’t keep it from standing out from its earth-toned background.
The windows of the various shops all seemed to be stained dark, it reminded me of suet. In between the buildings, I could see a dilapidated church on a small hill sitting not too far away from here, maybe a quarter of a mile away, that’s where most of the townsfolk seemed to be, despite it being a Tuesday. The one car that passed by me during my little stroll was rather unremarkable, a little powder-blue Oldsmobile that unobtrusively puttered down the quiet road.
The driver, however, was a different story altogether.
The face of the driver looked like some kind of vampire or demon from a John Carpenter flick. It was an older woman with a swath of greyish black hair put up into a messy bun on top of her head. She had sharp, angular features and long jagged yellow teeth protruding from her head. Those fangs looked like they’d been filed into points, and peeked out from beneath her closed jowls. Her pale skin seemed to have some kind of wet red paint splattered all across her pointed chin and along the side of her neck. But that was not as unnerving as her cold, dead eyes, which were fixed on me with cruel intent.
I felt my heart drop into my stomach as I rubbed my own eyes in an attempt to undo whatever Stokerian nightmare it was I was seeing. When I dared to look again, it was just a regular old lady, no fangs, no blood.
She had the same dead eyes though.
I offered her a friendly wave, but she didn’t return it. She just kept staring in disgust. After a moment she proceeded on her way down the road, my eyes trailed her until she was out of sight.
Why am I seeing things? Was there some kind of aerosol agent in the air making me see monsters? Did David lace his goddamn melons? No, surely not.
I had a ton of questions, but no answers.
My mouth was feeling as dry as the Sahara. I looked over and saw a small tavern that was apparently open. It looked like all of the other businesses on the strip, only its window had ‘TAVERN’ printed on it in large white letters. Say what you will about the blandness, it got the point across.
I quickly ducked inside for a well-deserved drink, but only met more strange folks. Behind the bar of the dimly-lit tavern, there stood a very muscular man with a sizable beer gut polishing his glasses. The dull overhead lights gleamed off of his bald head and directly into my eyes, causing me to wince. I pulled out one of the empty barstools and took a seat. Various power ballads of the 1980’s played quietly in the background.
“Hi there, mind if I get a bottle of Coors?” I asked.
He cut his eyes at me and frowned heavily. Without breaking eye contact, he took the glass he’d been polishing and slammed it underneath the beer dispenser and pulled down on the lever, quickly filling it to the brim with the foamy amber liquid. With a low grunt, he slid it over to me, then turned and grabbed another glass to polish.
“Thanks,” I said, “how much do I owe you?”
The barkeep held up three of his sausage-like fingers, then gave me a higher-toned grunt, which I could only assume denoted satisfaction after I slid him two $5 bills to cover my brew and tip.
It’s what you do.
I took a deep sip of my beverage, the refreshing fizz dance inside my nostrils. I carefully sat my beer on the little napkin in front of me and took a glance at the other customers surrounding my table. I didn’t see any monsters, but what I saw didn’t inspire any feelings of contentment either.
An intergender scout troop in neatly pressed military-style dress sat uncomfortably ridged in all of their seats, save for one little girl with a shirt full of badges and a beret who slowly goose stepped around them with a long ruler clutched between her black nails. It was safe to assume she was the leader of the Hitler Youths. All of their eyes followed my every movement, watching me like a cat stalking a dangling string.
“Say, barkeep. Am I wearing something people around here find, I don’t know, infuriating, or do I just have a punchable face?”
The man at the bar, whose cold exterior had been warmed slightly by the tip, sat his glass to the side and leaned in towards me.
“This town isn’t friendly to new faces,” he said quietly. His gruff voice carried a hint of eastern-bloc seasoning to it. “If I were you, I’d be weary…very weary.”
“I’ve noticed. Any tips for a poor fool stuck here for the night?” I asked before taking another sip of beer.
“The night?” The barkeep sneered slightly, then continued. “I’d get you a silver dagger, some sage, and a tub of salt. That may be enough…perhaps a few crosses too, for luck. Whatever you do, don’t go out into the night. You won’t like what you see.”
“I don’t like what I’m seeing now, sheesh. Is there some kind of taxi service I can hire to be on my way out of town?” I asked.
“The only taxi goes from here to the graveyard. No further," he replied.
“Ah, how charming. No Uber?”
“No, we ran out of Germans after the last ones…disappeared," he said.
“Okay, what’s the nearest town?” I asked.
“A good hour away West of here, assuming you aren’t hunted down for sport and beheaded before you make it out of Delilah to try.”
“Does that happen a lot?”
“Oh, you have no idea,” he said grimly.
“Alrighty, any places around where I can score a silver knife or whatever?” I asked. Despite my flippant attitude, I’m drenched in sweat.
The Barkeep sighed and passed me small silver knife beneath a cloth napkin like he was selling me drugs or something.
“Thanks,” I said, gingerly scooping the blade up and into the inner pocket of my jacket.
“Finish your drink and hit the bricks, it’ll be dark soon. Don’t be outside when it is.”
I slammed back the rest of my beer and stood up slowly, watching the eyes of everyone in the room following my every movement with unsettling calmness. After paying the bartender, I quickly stood up left the establishment and made a break for the hotel which was about block away. I picked up my pace and ignored any potential surveyors surrounding me as I walked, I was quickly losing the light.
How long had I been in that damn bar? I thought it was only a few minutes.
The hotel stood apart from the other buildings like a sore thumb. Because it wasn’t a part of the downtown strip like the other stores, its age was far more evident. The three-story hotel looked more like an asylum rather than a hotel, and the stone gargoyles that lined its concrete gothic arches gave me the distinct impression that I was being watched by their beady red eyes.
Also, I noticed something red on the claws of their hands and feet.
Was that paint? Please, let that just be paint.
I quickly pushed past the pair of glass doors and made my way into the vestibule of the hotel. I walked past all manner of fancy ornament and reached the reception desk, where a strange man in a blood red suit stood rather oddly, as if he’d been fused to that very spot. He wore a golden nametag on his lapel with ‘Tom’ etched into it in one of those annoyingly overly fancy scripts. His tired gaze trailed me as well, but his intent seemed to have been job-related rather than murderous.
“Good evening, how can I be of service?” Tom asked. It was hard to differentiate if he had a speech impediment or was just a native French speaker. Maybe both.
I skipped the pleasantries and procured a room as quickly as I could from Tom.
Dagger in hand, I powerwalked down the burgundy colored carpeted hallway to a set of elevators, where I quickly pressed ‘4’ on the control panel.
I felt like I could hear a battalion of small footsteps behind me, I grew tense, waiting on the horde to tear me asunder, but such fears were momentarily dissuaded by the pair of gleaming silver doors that closed me off from such a fate, and I was quickly propelled up to the top floor.
Once the doors reopened, I bounded for Room 408 and quickly jammed the slender brass key that Tom had given me into the door's handle, causing the keyring to jingle loudly from the motion. My heart felt as though it were trying to pound itself free from my chest as I struggled to gain entry to my room.
A sudden chill filled the air as lights on both ends of either hallway began to shut off one by one, heading straight for me. I'm unsure if it was the panic or what, but I swear each burnt-out bulb was accompanied by the ghostly giggle of young children. Thankfully, as the last remaining bulb that hung directly overhead began flickering, I managed to work the troublesome lock open and rushed inside my hotel room.
I promptly slammed the door closed behind me, and locked it shut tight. With that done I pressed my back against the door’s white surface and hung my tired head. After a moment, I looked up and took in the brightly lit room. The single bed rooms were always rather small, but it didn’t look particularly evil or murdered-in, at least.
As I started to feel a little calmer, the power to my room cut out completely, leaving me in total darkness. I found myself surrounded by multiple pairs of unblinking, dead eyes, glowing brightly in the dark.
All I could do was scream.