Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
By Allison Miller
The rain poured down in thick, roaring sheets from a sky as black as tar. Jack Adams leaned forward in the seat of the old sedan, pressing his chest against the steering wheel and squinting through the windshield as the wipers frantically swished back and forth. The road was barely visible in the dim headlights, and every minute or so there would erupt a massive gust of wind that shook the sides of the car. He briefly considered pulling over and waiting for the rain to stop, but one glance at the large duffel bag and blood stained denim jacket in the passenger seat quickly dispelled that notion. Frankly, he considered himself lucky that he had made it this far without so much as hearing a siren.
Suddenly the car thumped and jostled as it struck a large pothole. Jack cursed under his breath and swerved to miss a few more. This highway was rarely used, which was why he chose it. However, that also meant it wasn’t often maintained. What with the storm and how rarely the lines were painted on the blacktop, Jack couldn’t even say for certain which side of the road he was on. But it will all be worth it, he thought to himself with a smile. All he had to do was withstand the storm and this sorry excuse of a road for a few more miles till Elm Springs. There, he would rendezvous with Mack Mason to barter a phony passport and by tomorrow morning he’d be sitting in a cushy airline seat heading straight for Costa Rica to commence his life of luxury. Four million dollars’ worth of luxury, to be precise. And all it took was a few minutes and the life of one dumb bank teller, whose blood currently stained his jacket. Not bad for a day’s work.
Despite these happy musings, the road didn’t become any easier and the storm never lessened. Up till now Jack never dared go over fifty-five miles an hour in this weather, but his patience was running thinner by the second.
“Screw this,” He muttered to himself, pressing down on the gas and shooting the sedan up to sixty…then seventy… then finally eighty miles an hour before he decided to keep it there. The hissing from the rain as the car surfed over the asphalt intensified, puddles splashed up over the sides like ocean waves, and up ahead, unknown to Jack, was a faint curve in the road.
If Jack had still been going his previous fifty-five miles an hour he might have been able to see it in time, even with the storm. At eighty miles, however, the turn was there in a split second.
“SHIT!” Jack cried, wrenching the wheel to adjust for the curve, only to have the tires hydroplane out of control and skid off the road into the ditch.
The sedan fell into a mad roll. Glass shattered and flew like crystal snow as Jack was tossed and shaken; his arms flying up, then down, his head flung back and forth, all the while screaming to a deity he had long since stopped believing in. Then, just as quickly as it started, the rolling stopped. Jack’s head hung barely an inch above the sedan’s roof, suspended by the lifesaving miracle that was his seat belt.
“DAMN!” he swore to himself, shaking off the daze. Groaning, he undid his seat belt and tumbled into the debris and mud that was seeping in through the smashed windows. He then wrapped his hands in his denim jacket and pulled himself through the driver’s side window, dragging the duffel bag with him.
The storm continued to rage, the torrents of rain washing most of the mud and blood away from Jack’s bruised and cut face. It was only with the help of the still functioning headlights that he managed to climb up out of the ditch and back on to the road. What the hell am I going to do now? He thought to himself, looking up and down the deserted highway. Elm Springs was still at least sixty miles away, there was little to no chance another car would be coming anytime soon, and God knows he couldn’t call the police. I am up the metaphorical shit creek without a single damn paddle!
Resigning himself to a very long, cold, and wet evening, Jack began slogging down the road. Gonna catch pneumonia, tuberculosis, or strep, He grumbled to himself. Gonna die in this friggin’ downpour, then where’ll I be? All this money, my hard work, all down the…
It showed up so suddenly that Jack figured at first it had to be some sort of optical illusion. But sure enough, as he stumbled down the road and passed through the watery veil there could be no mistaking it. Squares of light, stacked neatly one on top of the other, seemed to grow out of the ground, only faintly encompassed within the black profile of a tall building. It stood nine stories high and was perfectly rectangular with a pointed roof, looking, Jack thought, like a giant’s mausoleum. Just under the roof he could see what must have been a sign. Squinting against the rain and darkness he read “Drewer’s Inn.”
Who would be stupid enough to build a hotel way out here, Jack thought to himself. Most hotels, even small cheap ones out in the country, are usually accompanied by gas stations or a series of restaurants and diners to entice travelers, but this one stood alone; a solitary structure in the middle of Nowhere, USA. They couldn’t be getting good business, but whether or not the owner was Rain Man himself, the place was a welcome sight to Jack.
A cracked and ill maintained drive circled off the road and ended at a barren patch of asphalt in front of the hotel that had to be the parking lot, though the lines separating the spaces were no longer visible. Jack sprinted across the lot towards the thick double doors and threw himself inside. The light was blinding after the dark of the storm and he had to pause in the entrance while his eyes adjusted.
The lobby was much more elaborately furnished than Jack would have expected for an out-of-the-way highway hotel. On the right hand side stood a welcoming cobblestone fireplace, bordered with cushy leather couches and chairs and a large moose head hanging over the mantle. From the door, a spotless maroon rug lead up to the front desk, where a tall, thin man in a business suit stood gaping.
“Welcome to Drewer’s Inn!” he cried, his gape bursting into a wide smile. “How may I help y…” the smile melted as he noticed the state of Jack, covered with mud and scratches. “Good lord, man! Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah I’ll be alright.” Jack panted. “I just need to use your phone.”
“Of course, of course!” the man immediately swiveled the phone around to face him. Jack fished a moist slip of paper from his jeans pocket and dialed the number scribbled on it. It went straight to voicemail without a single ring. You have reached the voicemail of…Mack Mason…please leave a message…
“Damn it.” Jack muttered, hanging up the phone a little more harshly than necessary. The man in the suit raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “I don’t suppose,” Jack continued, trying his best to sound cordial, “you know of any taxi services?”
“None operating this late. Also, there is the storm to consider.”
Jack took a deep breath and slapped on his best grin. “Well then, I guess I’m going to need a room for the night.”
“Wonderful! Happy to serve!” The wide smile once again split the man’s face.
“But here’s the thing,” Jack dropped his voice a few octaves and leaned forward conspiratorially. “I’m afraid I lost my wallet with all of my credit cards and my ID, but I have plenty of cash…”
“Ah, I see. Well…” the man folded his hands on the counter, pondering. “Such a thing is normally against hotel policy these days. But seeing as how you seem to be in a bit of a bind…I guess I can accept just cash. On one condition, however.”
“You sign the guest book!” and he slapped a dusty leather ledger down on the counter.
“Uh, sure.” The man handed Jack a fountain pen and flipped the book open to a page marked with a maroon ribbon. Half the page was covered with signatures in illegible cursive and all were written in the same red ink. Jack unscrewed the cap and swiftly scrawled “James Swanson” beneath the others.
“Wonderful to have you here, Mister Swanson! A real pleasure! I am Mr. Drewer. Harry Drewer. Old Harry to my friends.” Mr. Drewer snatched Jack’s hand and shook it heartily.
“Drewer, huh?” Jack said. “You must be the owner, then?”
“Indeed I am.” Drewer’s chest puffed slightly with pride. “This hotel has been in my family for…many generations.”
“Don’t suppose you get much business way out here, though?”
“No, sadly. We used to do a thriving business in better days, but a competitor managed to slow things down for us. That’s all ancient history, however, and you’ve obviously had a trying night. Here, let’s get you a room, shall we?” Mr. Drewer paused and regarded Jack for a second, seemingly glancing from the duffel bag to the denim jacket he had rolled up under his arm. “hmmm…I think the fourth floor would suit your needs best.” Turning around, Mr. Drewer pulled a shining brass key off a hook and handed it to Jack. A plastic tag showed it to belong to room 401. “Have a good night, and…pleasant dreams.”
“Sure, thanks.” Jack took the key and made his way over to the elevators on the left. From his peripheral vision he could see Drewer watching him all across the lobby. As soon as the doors slid shut behind him, Jack shuddered. Something didn’t feel right about that, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it was his suit, so tediously overdressed for a hotel that looked like it saw two to three guests a week. Or maybe it was his overly polite way of speaking. Either way, Mr. Drewer and the hotel just didn’t seem to belong, somehow. Oh well, what do I care, huh? Jack thought to himself as the elevator slowly lurched to the fourth floor. First sign of daylight and I’m outta here.
The doors slid open with a hollow ding to reveal a small landing where he was faced with a pathetic assortment of dusty paper flowers on a coffee table under a tarnished mirror. The corridor ran perpendicular to the landing, stretching left and right under dim wall lamps and ending with curtained windows on either end. The carpet kept with the maroon color scheme of the rest of the hotel, but was pale and worn in the middle where countless feet had once trod.
Jack turned towards his room, but was distracted by an odd shape at the far left end of the hallway. It looked to be a maid’s cart, still pushed up against the wall near a room. But what maid would still be working at this time of night? Would a hotel like this even need a regular maid? Jack figured it must have just been left there from this afternoon, but then, shockingly, a dark silhouette seemed to glide out from a room and go towards the cart. Slowly, mechanically, it bent down and pulled out what could only have been folded towels, and then paused. It rose and appeared to turn and stare down the hallway at Jack. He stared back, expecting some sort of response; a greeting, a waving hand, anything. But the strange silhouette did nothing. It just stood there and stared. Jack shivered and hurried to his room, practically slamming the door behind him before turning the latch.
He leaned against the door. The room, he could see, was clean but painfully old fashioned. The only signs of technology, the TV and the phone, looked to be from the 1970s (with the TV still having a rabbit ear antenna and the phone being a turn dial) and there was a faint smell of mothballs. I guess without any regular guests they never bothered to upgrade to the twenty-first century. Jack thought as he tossed the denim jacket and duffel bag onto an armchair in the corner. Looking at himself in a mirror over the desk, he could see that he desperately needed a shower. The rain had washed off most of the mud, but his hair still bore traces of it and his arms and face had thin patches of smeared grime that shown like bruises. Before walking into the bathroom, Jack unconsciously double-checked the latch. Then, just to be sure, he set the chain.
Like the rest of the room, the bathroom was spotless but seemingly from a different decade. The tub was colored off-white and stood at the opposite end on clawed feet, blinding white towels hung above the toilet, and the floor squeaked under Jack’s shoes as he walked in. The only miniscule sign of imperfection was a tiny circle of rust around the drain in the tub. Jack peeled off his filthy clothes and threw them carelessly on the floor, then twisted the shower knobs to a comfortable heat.
But it wasn’t water that flowed from the showerhead. A red liquid, reeking of iron, gushed forth and splattered against the clean white of the tub. Jack screamed and fell backwards, tripping over his discarded jeans and hitting his head against the door. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the red liquid ceased and was replaced by clear water. Jack stood up, massaging his head. Rust, Jack reasoned to himself. It’s gotta be rust. An old place like this that hasn’t been visited regular has gotta have rust in the pipes. Jack chuckled as he stepped under the steaming water. You’re letting your imagination get the better of you, Jacky boy.
Jack sat and soaked under the hot water for almost twenty minutes before getting out. The towel he used to dry himself took the place of his clothes on the floor, which he hung over the curtain rod to dry for tomorrow. His boxer shorts were slightly damp where the rain had soaked through his jeans, but made adequate pajamas.
Throwing back the bedspread and the sheets, Jack crawled into the king size bed with a sigh. This place was old and freaky as hell, but at least they got the beds right. Reaching up, he pulled the chain on the lamp and plunged the room into darkness. His eyelids grew heavy and he could feel himself drifting into sleep…then SQUREEEAAAAAKKKKK…..SQUREEEEAAAAKKKK.
Jack shot up in bed. That horrible sound pierced the silence in regular intervals, getting louder; the shriek of an unoiled wheel. With horrid screams, it came closer and closer down the hallway before it seemed to stop right next to Jack’s room. Through the crack under the door, Jack noticed the twin shadows of feet stand just outside. For a whole minute they stood there, silent and unpredictable, before shuffling away. The shrieks sounded again, only this time receding down the hallway before silencing altogether. Jack flicked on the light and checked the door. The latch was still secure and the chain still in place, but he still felt uneasy. Tearing off a wad of toilet paper in the bathroom, he stuffed it into the peephole before going back to bed.
Jack was reluctant to turn off the light. He lay there, staring at the chain, before finally swearing at himself and tugging it so hard the lamp nearly tipped over. But the exhaustion he had felt before was gone, replaced by a subtle yet unrelenting fear. The hours seemed to tick by slowly in the darkness. There was no real way for Jack to tell the time; he had no watch and the room didn’t have a clock. At some point Jack drifted into a half-sleep, the kind of sleep where the body shuts down only out of necessity but the brain remains fully aware and ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.
No dreams come to a man in half-sleep, only darkness as he waits for the sun to rise, but Jack could swear he heard noises. The squeak…squeak of the maid’s cartwheel came back to him. Jack assured his unconscious self that it was just his imagination and kept on sleeping. Eventually the noise ceased and he thought no more of it. He drifted on through oblivion a bit longer…then, for some reason, the oblivion grew darker. He felt like he was being watched and forced himself to resurface. His eyes flickered in the darkness…and registered a dark silhouette standing at the end of his bed. Jack cried out as he grabbed the bedside lamp and flung it at the silhouette, only to have it smash against the opposite wall. He jumped out of bed and slapped on the switch.
The room was empty, not a soul to be seen. Breathing heavily, Jack checked the door and saw that all the locks were still set. Even the toilet paper was still in the peephole. He threw open the bathroom door, the closet, and even checked under the bed; nothing. Nervous laughter escaped him as he wiped the sweat off his brow. There was no one here, it was just his imagination. Just his own…There, on the armchair! His denim jacket and the duffel bag containing the four million dollars were gone!
“SON OF A…!” he cried, running into the bathroom and pulling on his clothes. She took it, the psycho maid! It had to be her. He had no idea how, but it had to be. Maybe she didn’t know what was inside, maybe she was just some kind of freaky klepto, in which case all he had to do was find Drewer, get it back, then get the hell out of there. But if she did know, if she looked inside that duffel…then he would have to kill them, the maid and Mr. Drewer. He had already killed one person for that money; two more wouldn’t make much of a difference. But first he had to find it.
He ran out of the room and down the hallway towards the elevator…or, at least where the elevators used to be. Where the hallway used to cut off into the elevator landing, it now continued on with more rooms. Jack continued down the hallway all the way to the opposite end, frantically looking left and right.
“Shit!” he cried. He ran back down the way he came, making it all the way back to his room with still no sign of the elevator. He cursed again, slamming his fist against the wall. Then he noticed something he hadn’t before. The door opposite his room…before, he would have sworn it was just another room, but now he saw it was an emergency door leading to a stairway! He slammed through the door and dashed down the stairway all the way to the bottom, passing three other floors with their numbers painted on the thick iron doors. He threw open the bottom door…and was in another hallway just like the one he left. The number on the room across from him was 901.
“Wha…how the hell did I get up to the ninth floor?” Confused, he walked quickly down the hallway. Halfway down he encountered an elevator landing identical to the one that was, or rather supposed to be, on his floor. Frantically, he leaped forward and slapped the only button. The doors opened with the familiar hollow ding, and Jack ran inside, pushing the level one button. The elevator lowered down to eight…then nine…slowly but surely making its way to the bottom. Eventually it came to three…then two…then one…but it refused to open.
“WHAT! Come on!” Jack frantically jabbed at the level one button, but it refused to relent. Instead, it continued on to the basement level. The doors slid open with a rattle.
“Good evening, Mr. Adams!” chimed Mr. Drewer, his arms behind his back and the familiar smile upon his face. He was standing in a small concrete room, pipes spider-webbing across the walls and ceiling and what appeared to be a large furnace hissing behind him. The grate to the furnace was thrown wide, revealing a roaring inferno inside. But all that was nothing compared to the creatures standing next to Drewer. They stood hunched and crooked, tattered and stained maid uniforms hanging off of emaciated forms with grey skin. Their faces were sharp and bony with pointed teeth that gnashed and grinned at the sight of Jack. One was digging a clawed hand into Jack’s duffel bag, throwing wads of money into the furnace to heat it. “I hope you are enjoying your stay. You’ll be glad to know we have your more permanent residence finally prepared.”
“Wha… What the hell?!”
“Oh, Hell indeed, sir.” Mr. Drewer snapped his fingers and the creatures surged forward, grabbing Jack by the arms and legs and effortlessly lifting him off the ground. He screamed and writhed as they carried him over to the furnace.
“N-no! P-please, no, I…” his screams cut off with the final slam of the furnace door.
Inspector Stewart watched languidly from the roadside as the firemen doused the flaming sedan. Eventually one fireman climbed out of the ditch holding a charred license plate.
“This that Adams guy’s car?” the fireman asked, showing the plate.
Inspector Stewart flipped through his notebook and checked the numbers. “Yep, sure looks like it. We won’t know for sure if the corpse inside was Adams until the dental records come back, though.”
“A real shame.” The fireman said, taking off his helmet and shaking his head. “It looks like the fuel line got cut in the roll and started the fire, cooking the guy inside while he was maybe unconscious. Heck of a way to go.”
“Well, if it was Adams,” said Inspector Stewart. “Then he’s facing a higher judgment now.”
Credit To – Allison L. Miller