Welcome to day seventeen 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 #317!
My entire life, all twenty-three years, have lead to tomorrow.
The day my life begins.
I glance at my phone as it vibrates in my hand, the screen bright with a call. I tighten my grip, resisting the urge to throw my cell across the parking lot. “Give it up, Mom.” I drag my suitcase out of the backseat and slam the door.
The wheels of my bag grumble over the pavement; leaves crunch under my feet. My phone goes dark. Maybe that will be the last time she’ll try. Maybe she’ll believe that her tattered lecture won’t work. I pass under the yellow light of a lamp, the world beyond fading behind the curtain of brightness.
Like a spotlight. My spotlight. The one I deserve.
A breeze kicks brown, withered leaves around my feet and brings whispers to my ears. Sounds of conversation, as if a crowd has gathered around me, creep along the ground, a low murmur I can’t understand. I squint into the dark, where blurred forms appear.
The voices quiet. The light flickers, threatening to offer me to the night.
The words rise into existence, gripping me with exhilaration. They know me. I straighten, ready to be worshipped. The wind roars…or is that applause?
I jump as my phone buzzes from within my clenched fingers.
“Shit.” I glance at the device, my mind working to comprehend the words on the glowing screen.
In a daze, I slide my thumb over the phone and place it by my ear as I search for signs of people around me. “Hello. Uncle Vic?”
“Violet called me. My dear sister is…upset.” The hidden laugh in my uncle’s serious tone comforts me.
The night fades to normal. The strange whispers gone, the dark forms lingering only in a memory. But I can’t live in memories and pretend spotlights, so I continue, my suitcase bumping over the uneven lot. “Mom is definitely upset. What did she say?”
“Only that you left, and she couldn’t make you see reason. She was a little hysterical.”
“I might have yelled at her.” Only there was no “might have”. I screamed at her. I focused all my rage at Mom, shrieking that I’d never be like her, a failure.
“She doesn’t think you can handle living in New York City on your own.”
“But you can.”
“How is the city? As fabulous as always?”
“I’m…” I stop, staring at the hotel looming at the edge of the parking lot, stone walls rising into the sky. “I’m not in the city. I stopped at this hotel, somewhere in Connecticut, I think. I was tired…”
Why had I stopped? Why not continue to New York? I glance back at the parking lot. A few cars sit scattered under curved lamps, and, beyond, the highway waits to take me to my destination. Almost there, but…
“There was a sign for this Thornewood Hotel and it…”
It what? Called to me?
Maybe I should keep going. Headlights shine in the distance, tiny beacons of promise, but the roar of engines turns to static then dies. Speeding SUVs and semi-trucks disappear, replaced by a line of trees, an unmoving wall. Jagged branches scratch at the black of night.
I face the grand building, the lights on the ground floor bright, welcoming.
“Oh, never mind,” I say. “I can get up tomorrow, and make it to all my appointments from here.”
“It is late,” Uncle Vic says, his voice high with excitement. “You should get a good night’s sleep to be ready for your big day. I’m so happy for you. You’re going to do great. I can feel it.”
“Thanks,” I say. “This is all because of you. You showed me the city and the inspiration that exists there.”
“Call me tomorrow and tell me everything.”
“I will. Bye, Uncle Vic, and thanks again.”
A smile creeps through me as I end the call and step onto the walkway leading to the hotel entrance. Uncle Vic took me on trips to New York City, visiting all the art galleries and museums, a world of true inspiration. Crowds of people, moving as one. Separate, yet connected. Captivating. The atmosphere of that grand city seeped into every piece of my art, every drawing, painting, and sculpture. The frantic life transforms into shape and color on my canvases.
No matter what Mom says. I have to live there with the crowds. The people. Their blood pumping, fueling their fast-paced lives. Tomorrow, I will begin that life, but tonight the Thornewood Hotel will do. Its grandeur fit for this special occasion, of my entry into the world of art. Someday, everyone will know me. Admire me. Worship what I can create.
My chest swells. I throw my shoulders back and hold my head high. I was meant for greatness. Uncle Vic knows.
Warm light slides across the ground from magnificent arched windows. A spot of bright in the dark, the moon and stars erased by the gloom of clouds. Cold creeps through the air as fog settles in for the night. I grab my jacket, holding it close as the chill caresses my neck. Over the entrance, the striped awning flaps.
Leaves scratch their dry fingers on the walk behind me, like strange applause for me.
I cross the last feet of stone to the oversized wooden double doors, which open into a spacious lobby, all rich browns and reds with touches of gold. The faint scent of perfume, as if many people had just passed through, lingers in the air. An underlying odor of age, of decay, lurks at the edge of my senses, then dissipates. My shoes squeak on the marble floor, where light and dark shapes creating a chaotic pattern. Awe spreads through my body in waves of delight. I have walked into another world, one of ladies and gentlemen, of glamorous balls and lace-covered dresses. A glittering gold chandelier hangs in the center, blood red jewels dangle from the curling arms. Dark wood paneling lines the walls, and golden sconces leave smears of brightness. Twin curving staircases frame the check-in desk at the back of the room under a balcony edged by an iron railing of spiraling vines and leaves. No one stands behind the counter, but I suspect a shiny bell waits for my hand.
My rolling case hums across the floor as I take in every detail, every touch of color and texture. On my left, a trio of archways lead into a room full of chairs. Voices echo, and I stop, my shoe making one last squeal before silence closes its fist.
I turn my head, the air heavy, my thoughts blurred. On the opposite side, a mirror image of three arches, only these lead to a pristine white room. People in fancy dress stand, whispering, gazing at the walls…walls covered in paintings and drawings. Art.
Excitement bursts inside of me. The day I’ve longed for, worked for.
The crowd turns. One by one, they stare at me.
I stand up straight, running my hand along my side, smoothing my Supernatural T-shirt, the white pentagram stark against the black fabric.
One by one, they raise their arms. Index fingers point.
I gaze at my clothes, horrified as I brush potato chip crumbs from my yoga pants, then lift my chin. What I wear doesn’t matter. Only my art matters. I run my fingers through my hair, red like the color splattered across the canvases the people admire.
I take a step. Yes, it’s me.
Their smiles fade to grimaces. I stop, my heart skipping, an unknown rhythm of fear encroaching on my confidence. Their whispers turn to harsh laughter, deep circles form under their eyes and their skin pales. Fingers curl, becoming claws. Expensive suits fade and shred, ties hanging on by threads. With a collective roar, they run to the walls, hands grabbing canvas and closing on frames. My work rips and cracks, falling to the floor in pieces. Sculptures smash, their dying gasps swallowed by the inhuman screams of the destroyers.
“No.” Rage blurs my vision. I let go of my bag and press my hands to my eyes, as if to tear the scene from my sight. They don’t know what they’re doing. They have to be stopped. With a shriek, I drop my arms, my chest heaving with anger.
But the white room is gone, instead, a dining room sits in shadow. Empty chairs with ornate backs. Tables covered with striped cloths.
Not a gallery. The Thornewood Hotel.
I adjust my shirt and swipe hair out of my face.
My paintings and sculptures rest safe in my trunk. A chuckle plays in my throat. My work is perfect. No one would dare laugh at me. No one would dare destroy it.
I close my eyes and dismiss the strange visions from a mind desperate for sleep.
Room 317 is ready for you, Miss. Have a pleasant stay at the Thornewood Hotel.
The calm words tug my mind free of the fog of anger and confusion, and I open my eyes. The check-in desk is cool and smooth under my hand. Wrinkled, icy fingers press a long, metal key into my palm, the number 317, worn but clear, stamped on the attached tag.
I look over my shoulder. Hadn’t I been standing in the middle of the room? “How did I get here?”
Please sign in.
The sand-coated whisper hangs, like a smoky secret. I return my gaze to the counter as a massive leather bound book slides towards me. The cover opens to a blank page, stained by time. An old fashioned ink pen rolls to a stop in the center.
“Sure,” I say as I take the pen in my fingers. Ink drops from the tip—red ink—and splatters to the paper. I set the implement on the page and begin to write, then stop, confused at the line, the betrayal of my hand. “Strange. I was going to use my given first name, but…”
Why would I use that name, my true first name, the one that had made me the butt of every joke in school?
“That’s not me.”
The urge to see the curve of the letters written in red strikes, but I hold back. “No. It’s not me.”
I exhale, gathering my wits. And with a flourish sign, Ivy Claye, the name that adorns all my work. Perfect.
The letters shift, bending and twisting as if wanting to be something else. I slam the book closed. The air, like thick liquid, clogs my throat. I can’t breathe.
Elevators are at the top of the stairs.
I stare at the key. The weight lifts from my lungs, but uneasiness invades my thoughts.
Why would they attack my art?
A ding sounds. I look up as the smooth metal doors open. I walk into the gaping mouth and turn to face the stairs, stairs I don’t remember climbing. Hadn’t I been at the desk? Talking to…the clerk, though I don’t remember him, only words. The doors shut with a click. The third floor button lights when I press it, then dims, as if uncertain of the journey. I hit it again with force, and the ascent begins. Swaying with the movement, I stare at my hands, picking a bit of paint from my skin. Red paint.
New York is tough. Are you sure you can handle it? You sure you’re good enough? Something seems to be missing from your work, don’t you think?
“Look! I’ve had enough of my mother telling me that!” I whip my head around ready to punch whoever dares speak to me that way. “I don’t need a stranger…”
Only no one is there.
My heated emotions bounce around the enclosed space, my words like weapons, ready to hurt. No one should doubt me. No one should question me. I swallow, the sound ripe with uncertainty.
The elevator jerks to a stop. I grab my suitcase for support.
A cheerful ding, and the doors part.
A wood paneled wall, dark and imposing, greets me. So odd. So quiet. So empty. Yet the place teems with voices and visions. My feet won’t move. A sliver of doubt works its way into my mind. I don’t want to get off the elevator. I could leave, get back in my car, and go to New York tonight. I’ll prove my worth to Mom…to the people at this hotel.
I rub my hand over my face.
And waste the money I spent on this room…only I don’t remember paying.
“It’s just a hotel. An old, creepy hotel. As long as there’s a bed, who cares?”
The doors close as soon as I’m clear, and, with a rumble, the elevator abandons me. I glance at my key. 317. I follow the sign pointing me in the direction of my room and enter a hall. 346 sits in front of me, 348 on the left, so I turn right.
An impossibly long hallway stretches before me, the striped carpet a road leading into infinity. Sconces glow every few feet, but the dark walls close in, defying the light. My rolling suitcase roars in the silence. A parade of closed doors and walls with golden frames, holding eerie landscapes of abstract images.
I stop, turning my head to take in the artwork.
I stare, my thoughts a crumpled wad of confusion. Familiar images. My images.
But they can’t be. My paintings are locked in my trunk. Aren’t they? My fury grows as I pass another and another…mine, but not. Blank spaces infest them. Unfinished. Missing something.
The errors glare from every piece and I run to escape the torment. More hallucinations? Too many voices with no faces. Too many sights with no basis in reality. Too much truth. Maybe my art needs more. Paintings become a blur as I race down the hall, never getting any closer to the end. Pressure builds behind my eyes. Tears? My life holds no place for tears. I am exactly where I want to be.
Tomorrow. It all begins tomorrow. New York offers everything I need. I’ll find a place to live. I’ll find a job. The people will provide all the inspiration I need to fill in what’s missing. Chaotic movement will offer shapes and brush strokes. The noise will become loud colors, line, and texture. Living there will allow me to claim greatness. And one day a gallery will accept my work.
They will won’t they? I pause, staring through the haze of my racing pulse. Doors. Numbers. Where am I? The hall looks the same in both directions, a forever line. I grip my key, repeating the number stamped on it.
I spin. A gold frame hangs on the wall. Paint drips from red letters, from words.
“I will be the greatest artist ever. And you will remember me. Everyone will know me!” Rage roars through my words as I throw my body forward, slapping the painting and smearing the glistening letters. Destroying the words. Eradicating the thought. Strangling the doubt. No one questions me.
I glance at my hand, covered in red, shining like blood. I hold it up to the light, enjoying the way it catches the glow and runs down my wrist.
I drop my arm and focus on a dark wooden door, gold numbers 317 sit in a crooked line. I raise my hand and smear the red from my palm across the numbers, claiming them.
My stomach clenches as the paint runs down the door. My body trembles. I need to sleep. I need to concentrate on my plan. The key rattles in the lock as I twist it one way then the other, and a click announces my success.
Careful not to touch anything, I enter, flipping a switch on the wall. A lamp brightens on the desk to my left. The warm glow creeps over the red carpet to touch the edge of the double bed. I close the door and cross the room, throwing my suitcase on the gold comforter, a deep yellow that matches the curtains of the two windows on either side of the bed. I spy the bathroom door and rush to scrub the paint from my hand. The taps squeak, the gush of water a soothing sound. Red spirals down the drain. I wash until the water runs clear, then press my hands on the edge of the white pedestal sink and stare at myself in the oval mirror. Not the face of greatness, but failure. The overhead light catches the bags under my eyes and the paleness of my skin. The red of my hair stands out as if the rest of me exists in black and white.
“Sleep, Ivy. It’s a big day tomorrow. Sleep and this can all be a memory, a bad dream.” The glint of doubt in my eye screams that I don’t believe that. I can’t doubt. I slap my palms on the wall, the mirror jumping. I want to tear it free and break it into a million jagged pieces.
“There’s nothing missing.”
I pull my laptop from my bag and crawl under the covers, too tired and confused to care that I’m still wearing my clothes from the day. My hands shake as I move the cursor to open my e-mails, which confirm the times of my job appointments and apartment showings. I cross check the times with the ones on my phone. By the end of the tomorrow, I’ll have the foundations of my life set.
I picture the art stacked neatly in my car, pieces I worked so hard on, hours, days, weeks…months. In New York, I will continue to grow, my talent ever expanding.
The computer screen flickers. The words blur, swirling together, mixing, dripping. Red seeps onto the screen. Letters flash.
S M E I IS S N
O TH N G M I
My mind on the verge of collapse, I grab the computer and throw it at the wall.
“There’s nothing missing.” My words hollow.
I tuck my arms around the pillow and bury my face in the softness, the tears breaking past my barriers. Maybe I’m not good enough.
But I’m so close. And I have New York City…the people will inspire me.
Sleep tiptoes into my mind, pulling me into the dark of dreams, where I run down long hallways, evading questions and searching for fame.
I wake. Standing. Staring at the door of my room. I have to know what’s missing.
The knob is cold. The door creaks open. I enter the hall, following the gold stripes on the red carpet and passing in and out of the stuttering glow of wall sconces. Calm purpose guides me to a door. 317. My room.
Wasn’t I in my room? Maybe. Or maybe this is the true 317, the one waiting for me. A weight settles in my palm. The key. I slide it in the lock and turn. The door swings open in silence. Laughter and the clink of glasses drift into the hall. I enter a white room. The walls lined with art, my art.
I smooth my hands along my hips, pressing the wrinkles out of my pants, then straighten my blazer…only I don’t remember changing my clothes. I run my fingers through my hair, the red a blaze of life against the black suit. All eyes turn to me as I enter, my red Converse squeaking on the floor.
Arms raise, fingers pointing. The people move as one, yet separate.
Their grins morph into looks of disgust. Laughter changes to harsh snickering. Their skin pales, fingers twist to claws.
As one, the people race to the walls, tearing my work from its rightful place.
Not good enough.
Sculptures crash to the floor.
Canvas rips. My rage flares, sharpens.
Pieces of a broken frame scatter at my feet. I reach down, wrapping my fingers around a piece of wood, the jagged edge a perfect tool. An icy fury focuses my mind as I take in the chaos.
They will pay for what they’ve done.
With an enraged cry, I join the fray. I ram the splintered shard into a wide green eye, the horrified expression left on the face…more than satisfying. Purposefully, I walk through the crowd. I wrap canvas strips around necks. Metal sculptures become instruments of death. A slash of steel sends blood splattering over the white walls. My artist’s mind sparks to life as I trail a finger through the mess, the perfect representation of the frailty of life. I gaze at the floor. Bodies, crumpled heaps, create beautiful shapes, the unmoving masses a contrast to the chaos. A man, his gray suit tattered and stained, stops in front of me—hair the color of boredom and frantic insanity shines in his otherwise unremarkable eyes.
He will become so much more.
I slam him into the wall, his arms whipping against the bloody surface. Remnants of a vase crunch under my feet. I pick up a long shard and raise it.
I stab the ceramic piece into his neck, a spray of blood arcs into the air. His body slumps to the ground. Emotion gone, his face sags.
Lifeless eyes, stripped of caring, stare forever at what the living never see.
Blood and flesh capture what paint and clay never could.
I know what to do now. To be great. To be remembered. To be worshipped.
The people of New York City will be more than my inspiration. They will be my medium of creation.
The gallery, a vision, fades. I walk the hall, the floor falling into nothingness behind me. The elevator carries me to the first floor, the ding a dying croak as the doors open, then rust with a squeal. I descend the stairs to the lobby, the carpet frays as I touch each step. Excitement creeps along the edge of my calm. A new plan firm in my mind.
I hope you enjoyed your stay. Please sign out.
I turn to the front desk, my suitcase waiting. No one lingers behind the counter, but the book sits open, my name written in the ink of a lie. Ivy. My middle name, one I have forced upon myself because I didn’t know.
Now I do. My real self revealed. I take the pen. As the page blackens at the edges, I sign.
My true name. The perfect signature for my art. Art the people of New York City will help me create. A name people will know.
My suitcase at my side like a faithful pup, I cross the lobby. Dust falls as the gems on the chandelier pass into the land of death. The gold sconces tarnish, their light dripping down the worn walls.
The front doors deteriorate, revealing the world I’m so desperate to affect.
The first light of day touches the last wisps of clouds as I climb into my car, sitting alone on a cracked piece of ground. The Thornewood Hotel gone. Possibly never existed.
Colored leaves, red, gold, and brown, fly away in fear as I start the car and head to the highway, to New York. My phone buzzes with reminders, appointments.
My life begins today.
About the Author
When a portal didn’t whisk her away to another world, Kathleen Palm decided she’d have to create them. As a kid, she filled sketchpads with drawings of strange creatures and wondrous worlds. She dreamed of being an illustrator and studied art in college. However, in the middle of being a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers, the desire to write her own stories struck. She embarked on the journey of insanity and never looked back, except to keep an eye out for the TARDIS or faeries because, well… because. She loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, believing that magic makes the world a better place. Her kids, husband, cats, dog, and tortoises add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, or watching strange television shows, featuring demons or time travel.
Her two stories can be found in the anthology Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After. Her debut book Doors is forthcoming from REUTS Publications.