This is a nice hotel.

It should be a nice hotel. Grand and old and bleed-you-dry expensive, a real Shining type thing if The Shining was set in a sprawling Victorian, all alone way up in the mountains. See, it’s the inspiration of the place that brought you to it - what better place to write a horror novel than a house like this? And it’s even advertised, The Most Haunted Hotel in America. When you saw the ad, you thought, there. That’s the place. That’s where you’re going to go. Halloween night sale, of course you’ll go, the night the veil opens and the night you’ll get your muse back.  You thought, Kristine would never let it happen in a million years. Ironically, Kristine scared easily. But, of course, Kristine isn’t here.

You saw on Kristine’s Facebook before you made this booking - and you barely know how to use Facebook, it’s been around for a couple months but you still haven’t quite got the hang of it even though your editor calls it networking, networking -  that Kristine’s in the Bahamas with some blonde bimbo twenty years younger than you. And what really stings is the new girl looks nothing like you, either. The bitch didn’t even have the courtesy to find herself a transparent rebound.

Fuck her.

This whole thing, you think, is a massive fuck you to Kristine. Oh, if she could see you! Doing things without her. You’re not even thinking about her at all anymore.

You don’t need Kristine. Two years should be enough time. It’s time to get back on the horse.

You said it was time to get back on the horse a year ago, nine months ago, six months, four, two. Each time with a sparkle in your eye and a shiny idea for a new manuscript. And then came the agents, no, the audience, no, and even just your own mind. Refusing to write. Refusing to reclaim your old genius. And you were a genius! Legions of fans, thousands of obsessives. They called you Queen of Horror. You were a god. Now… what are you? 

Your fans are either gone or impatient. Your life is… just gone. Without Kristine and without the books… what are you? An old fleabag with nothing to give the world.

But there’s this hotel. This hotel is your last chance.

You laugh, almost maniacally. If this doesn’t work, you have a backup plan. You’re going to dissolve that whole bottle of pills the shrink gave you into a glass of vodka and exit this world the way you came into it: small and confused and covered in some kind of bodily fluid.

What are you doing?

You could cry. It’s Halloween, for chrissakes, when the ghosts come out, old hag, what are you doing? You’re the only solo person in this hotel. Everyone else is partying or fucking or binging on candy. Everyone except the guy at the checkout desk, but he… well, he could’ve been in Halloween makeup anyway with how gray his skin was, how hollow his cheeks were. Like a corpse. You bet he was sick, poor fucker. Serves him right for working in this scam of a place, bleeding authors-past-their-prime dry.

Because it is a scam, you know it’s a scam. It’s a nice hotel in its own right, but it’s the whole Most Haunted Hotel in America spiel that makes it unique- that makes it a scam. Everyone else here came for a fun night, an adrenaline hit. You, stupid you, you came for a real ghost. Idiot, idiot, why would a ghost come here?

The fake cobwebs strung across your door seem to mock you. You, sitting at your desk with your shitty old laptop, a blank Word document open on the screen, nerves buzzing in your fingertips but somehow rendering them unable to write. You’ve been sitting here for hours now. It’s almost midnight. The bottle of vodka beside you is half-empty and you’re tired, so tired. You have no ideas. You came all the way out here to this damned place and you have no damned ideas.

Where is your Spine chilling genius! Where is your Beautifully written, a truly haunting thriller, will give you nightmares for days! The critics are gone and they don’t care about you. The real nightmare is this: you, alone in this room, your eyes burning and your hands shaking and no ideas and Kristine in the goddamned Bahamas.

You pick up the vodka again and it burns going down your throat, and you’re nauseous and tired but it’s almost midnight now, witching hour, and if you don’t think of something by then you really are going to take those pills - you’re really going to take those pills. You hold a hand over your mouth, pushing down a sob. You’re going to take those pills. Leave behind a crumbled empire. Leave behind nothing.

All you wanted was to write stories, is that so bad?

If you just write a fucking story now, you don’t have to die, you think savagely, but you’re probably too stupid to think of something even if your life depends on it.

You find yourself gazing around the room, black and red and seemingly made to house some sort of vampire. The canopy bed with its ghostly silk overhang, the ornate carvings on the walls and the table legs, the delicate embroidery strewn around… it’s beautiful and it’s grand and it’s much too fine for you.

Witching hour comes, and witching hour goes. You have no ideas and you’ve seen no ghosts. 

You’ll wait until three. The devil’s hour. If no ghosts appear at devil’s hour on Halloween, there are no ghosts at all. If you haven’t written anything by three you’ll take the pills, you promise. 

You take a fistful of silver hair into your hand and pull as hard as you can. It stops the tears leaking out of your eyes.

If Kristine was here, she’d call you stupid and overdramatic. But Kristine isn’t here.

When she gets the call that you’re dead, will she cry, will she scream? Or will she just hang up and go back to scuba diving? The latter, the latter, you deserve the latter you miserable miserable hag.

You’re thinking so hard about it now. You want to make sure you follow through. You pull the pills out of your bag, pink bright happy pills that taste like mockery, and you pour the vodka into one of those cheap plastic hotel cups and follow it with the whole bottle of pills and you go to the bathroom and you stick in the handle of your toothbrush, like a real mortar and pistol, like you’re crushing herbs for some witchy concoction, and you crush them up and mix yourself a sleeping potion strong enough to put the dead back into their graves.

You leave the cup on the sink, full of its foul pink sludge. It won’t go down easy but that’s not the point. You’re satisfied, wickedly satisfied. How poetic to brew your own death. How poetic, plastic cups and unused antidepressants and toothbrush handles covered in your spit and death.

You stare. You could just take it now and get all of this over with.

For a second, your vision goes black, as though overridden by the force of your savage self-hatred. When it returns, you’re back in the main room, swaying in place.

You go back to your laptop.

You stare at the blank page.

Your vision blurs.

You’re not going to see any ghosts tonight. You close your laptop and slump forward. Your shoulders shake. You’re too scared to take the pills. You know you won’t. You were the Queen of Horror! and you’re too scared to even take the goddamn pills.

You stand violently, knocking your chair backwards. Your mouth is sour, like something died in it. Grabbing only your key, you go to the door of the room and fling it open onto a darkened hall. You don’t know where you’re going. All you know is you can’t stay in that room any longer.

The ancient floorboards scream beneath your feet. You don’t care. You turn corners blindly, slamming into intricately carved walls and bannisters. These halls seem to go on forever, dark and labyrinthine and gothic like the corners of your own mind. The cheap carboard skeletons and felt cobwebs pinned up on the walls, though, don’t add to the elegant, dreadful ambience. 

You stop, finally, breath coming in short gasps. Reluctant tears leak out of the corner of your eyes, breaking into the rivulets of your crows’ feet, but you don’t know why those wrinkles are there because you haven’t smiled since Kristine left, or even before that. You haven’t smiled since the baby died, since she started drinking, since she started going out and coming back drunk and stinking of other girls, since she took a lighter to that last good manuscript and screamed Why won’t you look at me, please just look at me, just tell me after everything why aren’t I worth more to you than that fucking contract? You want to believe it doesn’t matter, you want to believe that you forgive her and she forgives you. Even if you don’t, you want her here now, wiping the tears away with her softly worn hands, her touch familiar and home.

But maybe you couldn’t give her what the bitch in the Bahamas can. Kristine was smiling in that photo she posted. Not at you. Never at you.

You’re crying, and it’s just about the manuscript. This is about the books, this is about your reputation. Only that. You barely even think about Kristine nowadays.

The tear drips from your chin, and you clench your teeth. Barely.

Crows’ feet and midlife crises and softly silvering hair. You’re getting old and it terrifies you. It terrifies you that you won’t take those pills because it means you’re going to survive to grow older and older and you’re not going to grow old with her.

You should have brought your vodka.

Your back hits the wall and you sink down. You put your head up on your knees and suck in a harsh breath through your teeth. There’s that terrible taste in your mouth and it hasn’t gone away. You don’t know how long you’ve been out here. Is it the devil’s hour yet, you wonder, when you’re supposed to see a ghost? Or maybe this is your ghost- these unbidden memories of yours. Kristine. They say ghosts are trapped in cycles, cycles of the same thoughts and actions over and over and over again. If that’s true, then you’re the fucking ghost, you’re probably the only ghost here in this godforsaken place.

But then the air gets cold.

You still. 

The air beside your ear seems to… shift. Your head snaps up.

Standing beside you, perhaps ten feet away, is a girl. She’s dressed in a white nightgown, and her skin is bone pale, so pale you can almost see… but you can see through her.

She stares at you with wide eyes and she doesn’t move. You stare back.

Then she opens her mouth in a scream, and no sound comes out, and then she whirls around and runs.

And you can’t even remember to be scared because suddenly you realize there’s the ghost, there’s the muse and before you know it you’re up on your feet and running after her.

Running after a ghost, you think, tinged with manic mirth. Isn’t that a story!

She darts around the corner, not looking back. You sprint after her, running faster than you’ve run in years, not minding how tired you are or how staggeringly drunk.

Come back! you shout, desperation bleeding into your ragged voice. Please come back!

She’s your muse, she’s your answer. If you can only catch the little girl, it will all be okay. Somehow, it will all be okay- not only the manuscript but your reputation, but Kristine, but the baby in his tiny tomb.

She turns a last corner, and you’re gaining on her, almost sure you’ll catch her by the end of the hall- but then she whips to the side, flings open a room door, and disappears.

What, what, no!

You slam into the door seconds after it closes. You try the handle, but it’s locked, of course it’s locked. You pound weakly on the door, knowing it’s no use, and you slide slowly down to your knees. The tears are flowing freely now, your breath heaving in your chest. Please, please, please open the door, you sob, but it’s no use. Still, you keep begging, until your pleas become incoherent. You don’t even know who you’re begging anymore. Your publisher. Kristine. Maybe even the little baby. Maybe even yourself. Please open the door.

You beg until your voice is gone, and even then you rasp and wheeze like a lifelong smoker or a horror story ghoul. Time slips away from you, only measured by how long it takes for your eyes to run out of tears, only measured by the eternity of the dead-rat taste in your mouth.

You turn around and lean your back on the door. You start to laugh through the sobs, scratchy and horrible like nails on a chalkboard. You’re tired. You’re so tired. You want to go back to your room, but you don’t think you even remember where it is. Still, you pull yourself up somehow, mostly using the door to get to your feet. You stumble down the endless halls to the door you think you recognize and drag yourself through the door. There’s your laptop, blank on the desk, but you don’t even care anymore. It’s like you can see through it. The room’s got a window, and outside you see the sky is tinged with pink. The sun is rising, the veil is closing, and Halloween Night is coming to an end.

 It seems like you’ve been here much longer than a single night, running these halls, screaming at an uncaring door.

You let out a final chuckle. All because of a Facebook post, right? But it’s not right, not at all. You want to collapse right into bed, but your mouth still tastes like death so you trip toward the bathroom and reach for your toothbrush.

But you freeze when you see your reflection.

Gray and sickly, that’s how you look, like the clerk at the desk. You’d expect that, after the night you’ve had. What you wouldn’t expect is the vomit. Dripping from your chin, staining the entire front of your shirt. Dyed happy shiny pink. 

But you didn’t take the pills.


A low dread begins to mount in your stomach. You do not look down at the bathroom floor. You do not want to know what might be sprawled on those pristine tiles. You do not want to know which author might stand among the ranks of this hotel or which has only had too much to drink. 

Instead, you turn and leave the bathroom behind. You go out into the main room and to the writing table. You take your familiar chair, the chair that was a prison, but you do not look at the computer screen. Instead, you turn it to face the window, the sun as it gradually delivers itself up into morning’s rebirth. Your breathing finally slows.

The light seeps into the shadows of the elegant room, chasing the shadows away from you until there is nothing there but pale pink light, bathing you, silhouetting you with a soft and familiar touch. Delivering you, too.

The thought comes again:

The sun is rising, the veil is closing, and Halloween Night is coming to an end.

This is a nice hotel.

October 29, 2019 23:41

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