The car’s engine sputtered to a stop, the vehicle seeming to emit a long sigh of relief after so many miles. For a moment or two, the young couple simply sat and listened to the quiet and gazed out at the starry skies over the ocean. The relief of knowing that their long journey was finally at an end made them almost too weak to get out of the car.
But, being young newlyweds, other thoughts soon seepeed into their minds. They smiled at each other, maybe even leered a bit, and got out of the car.
It was a lot colder than they’d expected, and the wind that whipped the salty, fishy air off the water was relentless. Fog sat like a fat, lazy cat out on the horizon, waiting for the coast to turn its back. It was only a matter of time before the clouds would cover the sky and claim the land as their own.
Jessica shivered, and pulled her coat closer to her body. “Wow, the weather sure is different than it is inland. And I didn’t think the sun would go down so quickly!”
Miguel pulled the luggage from the trunk with a grunt. “I guess time went past faster than we thought. Holy crap, I’m freezing!”
Jess turned to chide her husband. “You’re the one who decided you didn’t need a jacket.”
Miguel made a face. “I didn’t decide nothin’. I just plain forgot it. I’m not used to this weather.”
Jess shook her head. “You’ve been in Oregon for the past eight months. It’s late autumn. What kind of weather did you expect?”
“We’re coming from the eastern part of the state. You know. Desert? Heat? Warm air?” He smiled at his bride, then grimaced into the wind. “Let’s get inside before I freeze.”
* * *
The lobby was dimly-lit and empty, except for the man at the reception desk. Jess glanced at her watch, and was surprised to see that it was already 11 o’clock at night. “That took a lot longer than I thought,” she mumbled to herself. “Good thing we didn’t stop for dinner.”
Miguel was at the receptionist desk. “We’re checking in–sorry we’re kinda late. Didn’t figure the time well enough.” He glanced meaningfully at Jess, who elbowed him good-naturedly.
“Right. Blame me,” she said with a smile. Then she gave him a peck on the cheek.
The man behind the desk watched humorlessly, then bent to his computer. “Name?”
“Gonzales. Miguel and Jessica.” Miguel raised his eyebrows at the man’s demeanor, then made a face at the top of his balding head. Jessica had to walk away to keep from letting the man hear her laugh.
“Yes. Here we are…” Suddenly the man’s eyes widened in surprise, and he looked up at the newlyweds. “We have you in Room…F66…” His voice trailed off. Suddenly very polite, he hurried through the rest of the paperwork. In no time, he handed the keycards to Miguel and, with a wide smile, directed them towards the elevator and bid them a good night.
“Odd. Wonder what caused the change? Did you slip him a twenty? Or your flask?” Jess teased Miguel. She looked casually back over her shoulder, and stopped mid-stride. “Miguel…”, she whispered, and pointed. Miguel turned to look.
The reception desk was dark. No one stood there, and the lights were also off in the rooms behind it. The two of them had only taken a few stops across the lobby.
“Huh. Guess he was in a right royal hurry to get out of here,” Miguel mused.
“Yeah, we were pretty late getting here. Nice for him to have waited for us.”
“That’s for sure.” Miguel nibbled Jess’s ear as they went up in the elevator. “I’m sure we would have attracted way too much attention if we’d spent our wedding night in the car.”
Jess giggled as he nuzzled her collarbone. “Hey, save it ’til we get into our room…” She gasped when he reached the hollow at the base of her neck.
“Mmmm, this is an awfully slow elevator. Maybe we can just stop it between floors, and take our time calling for help.” Miguel’s voice was getting huskier, and he reached behind Jess for the floor buttons.
She shrieked, “Don’t you dare! You know how I hate enclosed places!” She pinched his extended arm.
“Ouch! Okay! I was just kidding. Now, where were we…?”
At that moment, the elevator doors slid open onto their floor. Miguel sighed dramatically. “Foiled again.”
“That’s right, mister, and don’t you forget it,” Jess teased.
The hall lights blazed a trail down the corridor, except for the very back, where it abruptly ended in darkness. Jess’s heart thumped anxiously; not only did she not like elevators or small places, she didn’t like the dark. She clung to Miguel’s arm as the two of them fought their luggage down the hall. They looked at each door, Jess praying that F66 would be reached before the dark chasm at the end would swallow them up in its maw.
They came to the last door that was bathed in light, and Jess whimpered as she read the number. F60. “Ohhhh nooo, this isn’t good,” she quavered. She looked at Miguel and set her heels, refusing to go any further.
“Jess? Come on. It’s just there, three feet further down the hall. You can make it.”
“No. Don’t you see? It’s not only dark. It’s…dark.” She waved at the air in front of the door. Miguel blew out an exasperated breath and looked. His eyebrows shot up.
The dark seemed to have a life of its own. The blackness was so absolute that it hid all things at the end of the hall. If there were pictures on the walls or plants by the door, they were not evident.
“Honey, don’t worry about it. We’re blocking most of the light just standing here. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll get out the flashlight and go get the door opened. Then I’ll turn on a light, and you can hurry in, okay?” Miguel did not like to feed his wife’s fears, but at this moment, psychology in the hallway was not part of his agenda.
Jess nodded gratefully, her fear-rounded eyes staring at the lightless area before her.
“Alright.” He hefted down his overnight bag from his shoulder, which meant dumping his backpack and her overnight bag as well. After a moment of fishing, he pulled out a small flashlight and switched it on.
The beam barely penetrated the void between the couple and their room. As he proceeded toward the door, the light from the flashlight wavered and almost went out. Miguel shook the instrument, and the light steadied, although the beam was much smaller. It was as if the darkness was allowing only so much light and no more. It enveloped the beam, surrounded it. The illumination did not dissipate the darkness so much as it fought its way through it.
All this Jess observed, shaking and fearful as she stood ready to run in the opposite direction. Miguel and the light disappeared into the void, and Jess held her breath. It seemed agonizing hours before another light,
brighter than the flashlight beam, broke through the darkness, shattering its hold on her mind.
“See? No problem.” Miguel held out a hand to her and smiled. Relieved, Jess picked up the rest of the luggage and walked very quickly into the warmth and safety of their room.
It was a beauty; everything the brochure had said about the Deluxe Suite was the truth. A gorgeous duvet covered a king-sized, raised bed. She quickly looked under the overhanging fabric–good, it was on a pedestal. No hiding places there. Enough with the paranoia, she admonished herself.
Miguel was checking out the cupboards in the kitchenette. He opened the refrigerator and whistled low. “Hey, babe, they left us some champagne!” He held up a bottle. The light from overhead twinkled through the fluid inside, and Jesse smiled. “That was really nice of them,” she said.
“Tell ya what,” Miguel said in a low voice, crossing over to her. “I’m going to take a shower and get some of this road-weariness off me. How about if you slip into something a little…less? I won’t be long.”
He kissed her, a long, slow encounter that left her wanting more. Then he smiled and drew a soft finger under her jaw line. He raised her chin up and stared into her eyes. “Don’t forget me while I’m gone,” he breathed.
“Better hurry,” Jess whispered. “I have a full dance ticket.”
“Hmph.” He raised his eyebrows and did a slow, one-person waltz into the bathroom.
As Jess was pulling out champagne glasses from a cupboard, she heard a faint sobbing. She stopped moving and cocked an ear. It came again, seemingly from the other side of the wall. “Oh, please,” she muttered with a wry smile. She walked around the wall to the bathroom door and pounded on it, trying to make herself heard above the sound of the rushing water. “Miguel? Hey, Guel!! ” No answer. Smiling, she hollered, “Hey amigo! What for the waterworks? Do you miss your mama’s paella already?” She stood next to the door, laughing to herself, as he turned the water off with a frustrated sound and opened the door.
“What?” he asked, soap in one eye.
“I heard you crying, Miguel. What’s up with that? Is it the soap, or your momma’s paella?” She laughed, but her amusement faded as he looked strangely at her. “What are you talking about? I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t singing either, so that couldn’t have been it.” He half-smiled at his own joke. “Although my singing has made other people cry…”
Jess’s brow wrinkled. “Then…what did I hear?”
“The wind? It has really picked up out there.” Miguel looked Jess up and down. “I asked for ‘less’. This”, he fingered her sweater, “is defined as ‘more’. Please try again.”
Smiling, Jess grabbed the bottom of her sweater and pulled it off over her head. She danced away from his soapy hands, laughing. He grunted and shut the door. In a moment the water was running again.
Jess shook her head. What a ninny. She’d been a nervous sort all of her life, always hearing things that turned out to be explainable. It was a surprise to her that Miguel had fallen for her, much less married her. She wouldn’t have fallen for such a paranoid nutcase such as herself.
She hummed as she put out the wineglasses on the kitchen table. As she rummaged through the drawers looking for a dish towel, she heard the weeping again. She stood up, listening hard. It did sound like the wind.
Must be shaping up into a real storm out there, she thought to herself. She strode across the room to look outside. Opening the curtains just enough to peek out, she was surprised at what she saw..
There was no wind whatsoever. The lights below shone against trees and foliage that were as still as death.
The whimpering and sobbing were now behind her! The blood rushed from her face, and she closed her eyes. Don’t want to look, don’t want to look, don’t want…But she felt compelled as the crying got louder.
She turned slowly to face the inside of the room. What she saw made her scream and run to the front door.
On the bed was the figure of a young woman. She was face-down, her long chestnut hair spread around her like a halo. She had her fingers dug into the duvet, and she was sobbing. Blood poured from under her head, staining the white bedspread.
* * *