Hi everybody. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love the spookiness, the costumes, the small children all dressed up. Below is the first part of my story, where a young reporter has to cover an inn named Scenarios, where the guests take part in everything from simply spooky to horror—and where the Halloween weekend turns into anything but fun, except maybe for one evil being.
Joan K. Maze
The tiny amount of light shining from old-fashioned wall sconces widely separated in the subterranean passageway—not electric—gave way to complete darkness. They’d entered a dank, evil smelling room that had her gagging. Once inside, her captor lit a flashlight long enough to enable him to direct her to a far corner of the room.
“Over here,” he rasped in his fake voice, and grabbed her roughly by the arm. “Don’t give me no trouble.”
Thank God he didn’t know what she was capable of. She waited until he bent to pick up the chain fastened to the wall, and slashed upwards with the side of her hand. Blood rushed from his nose and he fell to the floor. Quickly, she took the key from the keyring on his pants, fastened the chain around his ankles and, as an afterthought, took the entire ring of keys, along with the flashlight.
Her tennis shoes made no noise as she headed down the passageway to freedom. But it wasn’t easy to hold back the laughter. They had it all wrong when they tagged her as a victim.
Miranda Norcross, otherwise known as Randy, shoved her chair back, grimacing as it scraped noisily across the tile, and stood.
“I can’t believe you,” she said, unable to hold her temper, even in the face of possibly losing what she’d thought of as a job with a great future. “You promised I’d get good stories to write. This is fluff. FLUFF.” She sank back down on the chair, fighting against tears threatening to spill over. As it was, she could hardly see the man seated at the desk in front of her.
Merrill J. M. Good sat, apparently unperturbed, a half smile on his face, not exactly condescending, but not approving either. He was the exact opposite of the quintessential grizzled editor: tall, blue-eyed, hardly a wrinkle on his face, and with salt and pepper hair that only succeeded in making him all the more handsome. “It’s your choice,” he said, and drummed a pencil on the desk.
“Why?” she asked, tamping down the urge to say why me.
He shrugged. Call in a hunch. Besides, I’ve gotten calls about the place. It’s been in the news. People, women mostly, love it there, wanna go back. Can’t understand it myself. Why would anyone want to spend a weekend dressing up in crazy stuff? It goes according to the season or the holiday. Jeez, Randy, Halloween’s coming up. Don’t you like Halloween? Ghosts. Goblins. Witches. Werewolves.” Then he laughed out loud. “You told me it was your favorite holiday. Go for it.”
“Maybe,” Randy said, “but it can’t compare to a juicy front page news story.”
“You mean like a bloody murder or a kidnapping?”
The way he said it, the words seemed to drip with blood. Ridiculous, but there was a strange edge to his voice, almost as if he knew something was going to happen at the place.
“Merrill, you’ve got something up your sleeve. Spill it.”
He extended his left arm, pushed his shirtsleeves up with his other hand, and shook his head. Then repeated the same with the other arm. “Nope, nothing there. Come-on, Randy. It’s only for a weekend. What? You’ve got a hot date?”
“Dammit, Merrill, that wasn’t nice.” He knew she’d recently broken up with the man she’d expected to marry, and for the past month spent Friday and Saturday nights in front of the TV, not even venturing out with her friends. Maybe she should go on this stupid job.
“I don’t have a single consume. You gonna pay for one?”
For answer, he dug in his pocket, took out his wallet, and handed her two fifty dollar bills. She reached for the money, but left her hand suspended in mid-air, not quite taking this in. Merrill, the man known as a damn tightwad, was giving her what he usually would consider a fortune—for a costume.
“Gee, thanks.” She quickly stuffed it in her purse, not bothering to take out her own wallet, half afraid the money would take wing and go right back to Merrill. “Do they know I’m coming?”
“Made the reservation this morning.” He pulled out a drawer and took out a sheaf of papers, which turned out to be copies of letters to the paper extolling the many virtues of the inn she was to visit this next weekend, three days away. She took the papers from him and quickly glanced over the contents, stopping when she recognized one of the names.
She stared at the letter, the one from Celia Brand, a girl she’d known in middle school and never expected to attend such a thing. Celia, at least when she knew her, was mousy, shy, afraid to talk to anyone, and paid absolutely no attention to her appearance. Randy had made friends with her, but mostly, she hated to admit, because she felt sorry for the girl. As Randy read the letters sent from former guests, a glimmer of something came back to her. Celia had, during the last year of their acquaintance, shown a little spark of something. Whether or not it ever developed, Randy had no idea as the girl and her family had moved away.
“What’s up, Randy?”
“Nothing much. Just that I know, or knew, one of the guests. But it was way back in middle school when we were thirteen. It gives me something to start with. I’ll call her.”
“But why the frown?”
“She’s the last one I’d expect to go to Scenarios, or even to write a letter.” She shrugged. “But that was a long time ago. People change.”
“Yeah,” Merrill said, grinning. “Looks like you’ve got a focus now. Go and enjoy yourself, Randy. Spend the next couple days getting ready, buy some new duds,” he said, almost as if he’d forgotten about giving her the money. “But be sure and keep in touch. I want a report on Monday when you return, but also some tidbits along the way. You know what I like.”
She did, and didn’t mind that at all. “Sure, boss. I’ll finish what I was working on and then get started on this. I’m going to look up all the guests who wrote, see if I can talk to ‘em, not just Celia.” Randy leaned forward, a hand gripping each chair arm. “But tell me what’s gotten to you. I know there’s something.”
He gave her a direct look, one completely free of humor. “I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. Don’t know what’s bothering me. That’s why I want to make sure you keep in touch. Maybe it’s just this old man worrying about my favorite reporter.”
She laughed, but there was no humor in that either. Merrill wasn’t old, maybe forty-two, and she didn’t think she came anywhere near being his favorite, not with the way he seemed to like to holler at her all the time.
By lunchtime she’d finished the article she’d been working on, one about shelters for abused women, glad to be done with it. The women she’d spoken with had stirred her heartstrings, at times even making her feel guilty for having it so nice. Not that she was wealthy or anything. She had a little money from her grandmother, enough for a rainy day, but that was all.
As she headed for the nearest fast food place, an Arby’s, where she’d meet her friend, Alaina, a dark cloud passed overhead, marring what had been a completely blue and cloudless sky.
At home that afternoon, Randy put the phone down and leaned back in her desk chair. How could that be? The phone number listed on the letter sent by Celia to the paper didn’t exist. In fact, according to her source at the phone company, it never had. She’d spent a lot of time researching, looking for a good number for Celia Brandt, with help from her contact, but it was no go. There was no such person, listed or unlisted, in the entire Chicago area, even including the suburbs. She’d traced as far as the Illinois/Wisconsin border in an attempt to locate Celia.
Half an hour later, she had much the same results for the other five women who had sent letters. Although she didn’t use her contact for those, she did look them up on the Internet, with no success at all.
Even though Scenarios was in the city, admittedly at the northwest edge, it seemed to Randy to be in another world. Woods, thick, with untrimmed vegetation along the road, bordered the driveway. Soon it was as if she was in uncharted, unpopulated land, much like the early settlers experienced.
The raging fall storms had given way to inky black clouds moving fast across the sky. But there were so many of them it was as if night had fallen.
“A fitting place for ghosts and werewolves,” Randy said as a branch scraped across the right passenger side window. As she gazed into the distance, wondering where in heck the house, or inn, was, a white mass appeared briefly between two trees along the road, then vanished as if it had never been there at all.
“Damn, I’m outta here.” But the driveway, apparently constructed before modern vehicles, was too narrow to allow her to turn around. Nor did she dare drive onto the shoulder. It looked muddy, and she didn’t want to get stuck.
Her grip on the steering wheel tightened as she continued on, relaxing somewhat as the building finally came into view. Like a regal Victorian lady, the inn stood proudly among the last of the colorful fall blooms which, Randy was sure, would not be so glorious after today. An icy wind, promising a touch of winter, blasted through the passenger side where the window didn’t go quite all the way up.
Then she realized there wasn’t a single light on in the inn.
Shaking, both from fear and uncertainty, she spied a small parking lot at the right side of the inn. Thinking to at least let them know she’d be going home, Randy chose a spot fairly close to the building and maybe 20-30 steps from the front door. She got out but, not intending to stay, left her luggage in the trunk. The wind struck at her, tearing the collar of her jacket away from her neck, as if attempting to remove her coat. As she turned the corner, another white mass showed up, this time at the left corner of the building. She blinked. Had the difficult drive during the storm, along with the tension, affected her brain, her eyes? She looked again, but saw only a fragment of white move around the corner, and then nothing.
Deciding those who recommended the place were missing a few brain cells, Randy also decided the owners were going too far. The idea was to provide fun, not scare the pants off everyone.
She grasped the doorknob, ready to enter, but wasn’t able to open the door. “Odd,” she said, thinking one didn’t normally have to ring a bell at a hotel or motel, and then strengthened her resolve to leave. Heck, she could waitress again if she lost her job. Realizing that she’d now be able to turn around in the parking lot and go back down the driveway, she was about to return to her car when the door opened and a big, beefy looking man smiled down at her.
“Miranda Norcross?” he asked, and stepped aside for her to enter. This man, while big, looked harmless, friendly even, and Randy recalled Merrill’s face when he gave her the ultimatum. It’s only a weekend. Anyone could survive that.
“No luggage?” he asked.
“With no lights on in the inn I didn’t want to lug them up the stairs. Thought maybe I had the wrong place.”
“Power was out,” he said as the lights flicked back on, blinked off, and then back on again, staying this time. “I’ll get your bags,” he said, his hand out for the keys.
“It’s the red Honda.” She hesitated, then handed him the keys. “Thanks.”
He scanned her from head to toe. “Why don’t you wait in the parlor?” He indicated a room to the left of the entry, several feet beyond the reception desk which was to the left of the central staircase. He glanced at her feet. “If your shoes are muddy, you can take ‘em off and leave them here.” He pointed to a box to the left of the front door.
Not feeling quite right yet about everything, Randy opted to keep them on. “They’re fine, thanks.”
The living room, or parlor, she entered was decorated like a true Victorian. On the piano was a gorgeous white crocheted scarf, and on it, silver candelabra with gold candles inserted. Lit, they flickered in the otherwise dark room, creating shadows against the cream and magenta wallpaper. The entire wall at the left side had long windows, covered with magenta drapes that pooled on the floor. Three groupings of Victorian era sofas, in pale green and magenta, provided seating for well over two dozen people. Antimacassars were fixed to the arms, also crocheted in white, and the carpet, while somewhat faded was a beautiful cream, green, blue and magenta, the flowers on it being a dark red.
The tables were, she guessed, of mahogany, each end table sporting period lamps, some also having magazines or two or three books, but just one had an ashtray.
Randy sat on the edge of the couch nearest the door, her anxiety increasing, though she wasn’t sure why. The man who’d answered the door seemed nice enough, normal in fact, but why hadn’t she heard or seen anyone else? It was too quiet here, deadly quiet. And what about the white…she struggled to identify what it was, finally deciding the owners had arranged for someone to play ghost.
Footsteps finally. Randy stood and went to the door leading to the entry and saw a woman descending the stairs that were to the right of the entry. She had her gold hair piled high, secured with glittery combs, and her gown was like that of a princess. She carried a crown in her right hand, and the left covered with a bloody cloth. Her face was pale and drawn and tears ran down her cheeks.
“Please,” she cried, “help me.”
Randy rushed up to the woman and led her to a chair behind the desk. “What happened?”
The woman pulled her hand away and shook her head. “It’s stopped bleeding and I’ve put a band aid on it. But I need your help. Would you come to my room when you’re settled in?”
Hearing the shakiness in the woman’s voice, Randy didn’t think she should wait that long. “Why not now?”
“Wouldn’t make any difference. No, later is okay. I’m in 207.” Then she said, “I’m Norma Steuder,” and jumped up and bolted up the stairs.
Feeling confused and helpless, Randy wished there was someone she could turn to. Then the front door opened and the big man stepped inside, a battered and totally destroyed suitcase in each hand, muddy, torn clothing spilling out of the one in his left hand. The other hand held closed the luggage containing her laptop.
“These were on the ground in a mud puddle.” He paused and sucked in a breath. “There was no red Honda in the parking lot.”