The door wouldn’t open, no matter how hard Jess twisted the knob.
The sobs turned into a wail. Unable even in her fright to quell her curiosity, Jess turned slowly to look behind her.
The apparition had pushed itself up to look in her direction. The hollow eyes of the wraith, for such she was, pleaded silently as she stared at the terrified mortal. Tears flowed down the ghost’s face, mixing with the blood that gushed forth from thousands of small punctures on her neck. She held out a hand to Jess, as if silently begging for help.
“No!”, Jess screamed, sliding down the wall and curling up into herself. “No! Oh God help me!” She rocked back and forth frantically, screaming over and over.
Hands grabbed her shoulders, and she screeched in terror. Writhing, she fought against whatever foul thing that was holding onto her.
“Jess! Jessica! It’s Miguel!” He shook her, but gently, trying not to let his own fear translate into what Jess may have perceived as violence.
Jess stopped at once, staring blindly up into her husband’s face. Then she collapsed into his strong, safe arms.
He rocked her, the smell of the hotel’s lavendar bath soap soothing her nerves. After a moment, he pushed her back and looked into her eyes. “Now, what is wrong, mia?” he asked.
Jess pointed a shaking finger at the bed. “G..ghost!” she managed to croak. “On the bed!”
Miguel looked over his shoulder. “I don’t see anything, love.”
“T-there’s b-blood…everywhere!” Jess stammered, covering her eyes and trembling.
Miguel got up and walked over to the bed. The duvet was white as snow. He shrugged and turned to his wife. “Looks okay to me.”
On shaking legs, Jess slowly followed Miguel to where the ghost had lain. She could only stare at the crisp white counterpane. “It..it was there!” She stared at Miguel. “I saw it!”
He took her gently in his arms, kissing the top of her head. “Well, whatever it was, we’re alone now.” His seeking lips found hers, and became much more urgent. He guided her towards the bed, bestowing little gifts of love on her face and shoulders.
Just as he was about to lay her tenderly on the duvet, the TV crackled to life. Surprised, both of them could only stare as the nightly news blared from the set.
“Did you…”? asked Miguel.
Jessie only shook her head numbly, her eyes on the TV screen.
“In tonight’s news,” the newscaster burbled, “a grisly find on the beach right here in Coastline.” The screen flashed to a rescue crew out on the beach. Lights bounced and glared off the workers as they strained to dig up something before the tide came in.
The voice went on. “A lone midnight stroller was walking along the surfline tonight when he tripped over what turned out to be a human rib bone. Authorities are working to find the rest of the skeleton before the ocean reclaims its secret. A hotel-by-hotel investigation is underway, but there are few clues as to who this skeleton might have belonged to. We do know that the skeleton was that of a young woman. Dental records will reveal her name within a few days.”
Jess stared at Miguel. “The ghost I saw! She was young!”
Miguel shook his head. “I do think your imagination is working overtime, mi corazon. Let me work it in another direction.” He nuzzled her, and pushed her down onto the bed.
But Jess squirmed out from under him, and ran to sit in a chair. She huddled into herself, staring where Miguel lay, stunned. “I…I can’t…sleep there. Not after…”
Miguel groaned and ran a hand through his wet hair. They did warn me…“Okay, Jess, how about this? The couch makes into a bed. Takes no time. How about that?”
“No. I want a different room.”
Miguel sighed. Whatever. This will take time. I just hope I don’t explode. He said, “Okay, I will call downstairs and see what else they have open.”
But there was nothing else, according to the voice at the other end of the line. He would be happy to check around town, but it was midnight on Spring Break, so he doubted anything else would be open.
“Okay. So. We sleep here or in the car.” Miguel was losing patience. “Or,” and he looked meaningfully at Jess, still hunched in the chair with her knees drawn up, “we go back.” He emphaiszed that last word, and Jess started in surprise and shock.
“You wouldn’t,” she breathed.
Miguel shrugged. “If you can’t prove yourself able to be out in the real world…”
Jess shook her head quickly. “No! No, okay, I’m…okay, fine. The couch is…great.” She looked at the sofa as if it contained dead rats.
“Good.” Miguel tore off the couch cushions, and in no time had put the sofabed together. Years of living on his brother’s couch had taught him a thing or two. Jess watched him as he strode toward the bed and snatched up the bedspread.
“No! Not that. Are there any spare blankets in the closet?” She shrunk into the chair, staring at the duvet.
Miguel rolled his eyes, dropped the bedcover, and opened the closet doors. “One. And no sheets.”
“That will be okay for tonight. Really. Then we can get something else, or move further up the coast, tomorrow.” Her words came in a rush as she nervously regarded the spot where the ghost had bled so profusely.
Miguel stared at his wife, and shook his head in wonder. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought…
* * *
They lay side-by-side in the darkness, staring at the ceiling. Neither spoke for a long time. Finally Jess turned to her husband. “Miguel, I am so sorry. It’s just…” She waved vaguely at the room.
He turned and gazed at her softly. “I know. Tomorrow night we will go somewhere else. Then we will celebrate our love.” He caressed her face gently with his hand. “Now, try to get some sleep.”
Jess nodded, overwhelmed at the love she felt for this kind,understanding soul. She closed her eyes, listening to him as he made himself comfortable. In no time, he had drifted off. His soft snores were a sort of lullaby for her jangled nerves. She, too, finally fell asleep.
Somewhere in the witching hours of the night, Miguel woke with a start. He wasn’t sure right away as to why he had awakened, but it gradually came clear that he was quite alone in bed. He turned over to see his wife staring out of the open door onto the balcony. Most surprising was that she had the duvet around her shoulders.
He got up and said her name. She turned to him. He couldn’t see her face in the dark, but her quietness alarmed him. He got up and walked to where he could stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders.
“Jess/” he said quietly.
“Hm?” She didn’t seem to be fully awake.
“Are you…having trouble sleeping? Are you cold?” He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, which were snugged under the bedspread.
“Umm…no…yes…I don’t know…” she murmured, clutching the duvet.
“Why are you at the door here? Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Uhm…” She suddenly turned to stare at him. “Miguel?” she asked, as if she hadn’t known he was there.
“Yes, my l
ove. I am here.”
She turned back to the glass door. “Good. I had a dream you were gone…”
He held her close, but she didn’t respond. “I wouldn’t leave you.”
Suddenly she looked down at the coverlet and screeched, throwing it off. Kicking it furiously, she opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony. Her white nightgown fluttered in the soft spring breeze. Miguel followed, puzzled.
She turned to him. “Oh. I’m…sorry. Um, you go on ahead back in. I’ll be inside in a few minutes.”
He looked at her questioningly, but retreated.
Jess watched the promenade below her window, relishing the quiet that came with the passage of day into late night. Where both tourists and townspeople came and went during the hours of light, she saw only a lone cat making its way along the strand. She watched as it poked its head out between the balustrades to stare at something only it could see. It wandered silently but purposefully along the promenade, poking its head into trash cans and jumping atop the railing that kept the less-agile humans from toppling into the sand.
Suddenly it came to an abrupt stop, arching its back. In an instant, it had turned and run the opposite way, its tail low. Jess looked at where it had been, and saw a shadow disengage itself from the larger darkness around it. She watched dispassionately as the shadow morphed into a human shape. It became a man, youngish, but ageless at the same time.
She heard voices coming from the other direction, and turned to see a couple of young people, hand in hand, strolling slowly up the promenade. Wishing she was one of them, she let her gaze move along with their steps.
Suddenly there was a blur, and a pair of shrieks, and both of them lay still on the sidewalk, blood pooling from their throats. Jess shrunk back in horror, but not before she saw the shadow-man standing amidst them, his face covered in blood.
And he was staring right at her!
She gave out a blood-curdling scream and rushed back into the room, closing and locking the door. Miguel sat up in bed, his eyes frantic.
“What is it?” he asked, refraining from saying “now”, which he dearly wanted to say.
Jess panted, her eyes round with fear and panic. “He…he saw me…he killed…”
Her words were cut off in mid-sentence, as something heavy crashed into the glass balcony door.