Jessica squealed in fright and ran around to the other side of the bed, falling onto Miguel. He held her, close to panic himself, and listened intently for any further sound from the other side of the door.
Miguel turned on the light, and gently nudged Jess off of him. “Mia, let me go see what that was…”
“No!” she pleaded, shaking with fear. “It’s him! The…the shadow man! Don’t go over there!”
Miguel extricated himself from his wife’s grip and moved slowly into the kitchen, looking for a weapon. Pulling open a drawer, he lifted out a kitchen knife, then inched towards the balcony. There wasn’t a sound now; the moon shone peacefully down on the ocean, leaving a silvery trail of light. Miguel relaxed a little.
“It was probably a cat, thumping down onto the balcony,” he assured Jess in a whisper. She shook her head, pulling the recently-discarded duvet up to her shoulders as she huddled against the wall.
“No cat could make that loud a sound,” she whispered back. Miguel shrugged slightly and gave her a knowing look. “Where I come from, Jess, they can.”
He resumed moving toward the door. Jess followed him with her eyes, trembling more with each step he took.
Just as he got up to the door and prepared to open it, the moonlight was suddenly blacked out. Miguel jumped back, holding the knife in front of him, and stared wildly at the apparition in the glass. Jess screamed and jumped up, running behind Miguel and pulling him away.
“Out! We have to get out of here! That’s him!” she shrieked.
The specter stepped closer, out of the darkness of the unlit balcony and into the light from the room. He stared back at them for a moment, then a huge, horrible smile twisted his face into something diabolical. Fangs protruded from between his lips, stained with fresh blood.
The two in the room both cried out and ran toward the opposite door. It still wouldn’t open. They beat on the door, calling out frantically, hoping someone would be awake to hear them.
A gust of cold death ran across their backs, and they turned to see that the shadow man was now inside the room with them. Miguel trembled as much as his wife, but he swallowed and took a step forward, raising the knife. “How dare you! What are you doing in our room? Get out!” He waved the knife menacingly.
The shadow man, now obviously a solid being, spoke in a deep, silky voice as he stared at Miguel. “I believe you are mistaken. This is, and always has been, my room.” He waved his arm towards the pedestal bed, and the mattress lifted silently up on one side.
The inside of the pedestal was lined in silk, with a small pillow at one end. There were bloodstains everywhere. Miguel and Jess could only cling to each other and stare in horror at the ghastly sight.
The stranger stared too, but with an appraising look. “Ah, dear Feleshia, he murmured, almost to himself, “you were quite the treat for a long time. How I shall miss you. But,”, and here he turned to address the terrified couple before him, “your replacement is here.” He gazed lasciviously at Jess, and licked his lips. “Yes, you will do quite well.”
Jess screamed and hid behind Miguel, whose Latin temper overcame any fear he might have had. He rushed at the hideous creature before him, roaring his anger.
But before he could get closer than a couple of feet, he was stopped, practically in mid-air, by a mere look from his enemy. The intruder stared into Miguel’s eyes, and spoke quietly. “You, Miguel Gonzales, know nothing of this encounter. All you know is that you made a mistake when you married Jessica.”
At this, Jess screeched and ran at the man, who grabbed her by the arm and threw her into the pedestal-coffin. She screamed and jumped out, wiping her hands on her nightgown. Hugging herself, she backed away from the two men, and searched for her own weapon.
The stranger went on in his hypnotic voice, while Miguel struggled to move, to speak, to regain control of himself. “You woke up tonight to find your wife gone. She had packed her things and left. There was a note. She no longer wanted to be with you. She wrote that you were her only way to escape the state mental hospital you found her in. And now she was free, and leaving you for a life of her own.”
“No, that’s not true!” Jess wailed, trying to get to her husband. “I’m still here, and I love you, Miguel!”
But the evil creature had Miguel under his thrall. Jess saw with horror that Miguel’s eyes had glazed over, and whe as barely breathing. She tried to pull Miguel away, but then found ice-cold hands around her throat. She struggled for air as two red, glowing eyes stared into hers.
“I’ll deal with you soon enough, Jessica. Until then, kindly keep quiet.” And suddenly she found herself thrown against a wall, where she slumped down to the floor, unable to move.
The stranger turned back to Miguel. “You are despondent. You cannot live without her. In a moment, you will write a note to your family, and you will leave this room. There is a cliff a half-mile down the beach. You will hurl yourself off that cliff and into the rocks below.”
Jess managed to scramble up onto her feet. Taking the heavy decorative bowl from the coffee table, she smashed it over Miguel’s captor’s head. He merely turned and looked at her, a small streak of blood running down his face. Smiling, he wiped his cheek and put his bloodied finger into his mouth. She backed off, panting with fear, and ran for the sliding door.
But he was there first. She fought to go around him, but he held her fast. As she struggled and kicked at him, he chuckled in his throat, then grabbed her hair, yanking her face towards his.
In a low, dead-calm voice, he said, “If you attack me one more time, I can make the rest of your pitiful existence a living hell.”
She screamed, and yelled back at him, “You already have! You’ve taken my Miguel! My life is meaningless without my husband.”
“Yes, because you have no next of kin, I believe.” He smiled coldy as her eyes widened. “Oh, yes, my Jessica, it is no accident that you are here tonight. I read up on all of my guests. It’s been twenty years since Feleshia and I had a conversation something like this one.” He glanced quickly at the coffin-bed. “How I do miss her…” He leered at Jess, who squirmed to get away.
“Now,” he said, turning to where Miguel still stood frozen, “I will take care of a little business, and then we can get better acquainted.” He strode over to his victim. Jess crept behind her captor, but he swept his hand behind himself, and she, too, was frozen in place.
“Now, sir, if you would be so kind…” He handed Miguel a hotel notepad and pen. “Write what I tell you.”
Jess could only look on, tears running down face, while her heart of hearts penned a suicide note. She howled in grief as he turned numbly toward the door to the hallway. It opened silently on its own, and Miguel walked out.
“Miguel!” she screamed, grief and terror making his name a banshee wail.
He never turned around. The door closed on her final sight of him.
She cried then, great wracking sobs that shook her body. He just stood and watched until she had spent her energy and tears. Then he approached her. He lifted her chin with his fingers, but she shook him off.
He sighed. “I do hate having to explain things. But I suppose I must.” He caressed her hair, which made her cringe. She could hardly breathe from
the terror and trembling that pervaded her body. “You will get used to me, Jessica. After all, you will be here with me quite a lot.”
She could only stare at him, wide-eyed, shaking her head.
“Oh, yes, my dear, I’m afraid that is why I had you installed in my room.” He moved away from her and paced, his hands behind his back. “Sixty years ago,” he explained, “I came to this town, fleeing my ancient homeland to get away from those who would destroy me. I made my home in this hotel, and ‘set up shop’, as it were. But I decided early on that I was tired of the hunt, and so I made a deal with the good townsfolk. That is, the ones I brought under my power. I would buy this hotel, which was an eyesore at the time, remodel it, and bring in tourism and income. In exchange, they would leave me alone, only supplying me with what I needed to exist. First there was Nancy, who served my needs for a good eighteen years. Then Feleshia, whom you’ve met.”
Jess squealed in fear. “The…the…”
“Ghost. Yes. I’m afraid that the dear girl developed an infatuation for me, a situation which I can neither stomach nor use to my advantage. Besides, there were people who had come here several times in the past twenty years, and started to wonder how Feleshia stayed so young. I couldn’t have people asking nosy questions, now could I?” He raised an eyebrow at Jess.
She backed away until she could go no further, shaking her head in shock and horror. He advanced on her, his fangs glistening in the lamplight.
“NO!!” she screamed, running to the other side of the room, trying to get closer to the balcony door. There is no reason to live if I don’t have Miguel. I must get out so I can join him in eternity.
He whisked in front of her, causing her to jump back, her arms up to try and protect herself. “Do you know what will happen if you refuse me?” he growled. “Here, let me show you.”
And he was gone! Jess looked around wildly, then jerked when she heard his voice in her head. “Come look out over the balcony, Jessica.”
She crept out onto the enclosure and peered uncertainly over the side. What she saw made her heart freeze.
He was on the sidewalk below, with a struggling child in each arm. She heard him again. “All of these good citizens, from the oldest to the youngest, will be at my ‘mercy’, a trait which I do not have. Do you want to be responsible for their deaths? Every one of them will be on your head, because you could have stopped me just by cooperating.”
Jessica pulled her head back into the shelter of the balcony and crouched down, shaking with fear. She closed her eyes and sobbed.
Then shrieked as powerful hands grabbed her and pulled her up. He whispered into her ear. “Which will it be, them or you? Don’t worry, what I take from you will not be your death. But,” and his voice took on a menacing tone, “I will certainly make sure you die if you refuse me. Cooperate, and everyone lives. Defy me, and all will be at risk. And they will be only the first ones.” He smiled as he could see his threat hit home.
Jessica sank into a patio chair and stared bleakly up at her captor. “I really don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“Hmmm, come to think of it, you don’t,” he murmured. Then he bent to her exposed throat.
* * *
The next day, the TV flashed on in Room F66, now empty and tidy once again, waiting for the next unsuspecting vacationers. The newscaster’s voice spilled out into the uncaring air: “The body of a man was found at the base of the cliff south of Coastline. The police are withholding his name until his family can be notified…”
* * *
Jess rolled her housekeeping cart up the corridor, the light turtleneck sweater she wore feeling a bit itchy. She put it down to the many scars and holes on her throat that had either healed or were in the process of healing.
He hadn’t bid her come to him in a week. That hadn’t happened, ever, in the twenty years she had been servicing him. The need to see him again, for his touch, for their hours in his bed, was getting unbearable. As she passed the hallway leading to his room, she couldn’t help but look down in that direction.
She froze in disbelief. Someone was actually entering the room! She left her cart and hurried down to the door. His door. Their door.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked. The other woman turned to her, and Jessica was mildly shocked to see such misery on her face.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” She smiled sadly and closed the door.
Jessica moved away, confused. Is he mad at me? Doesn’t he love me anymore? No one had spent the night in that room since me and…me…and…someone. Who? Was I alone then? She shook her head to dispel her thoughts. No matter. What counts is now. What counts is us.
She walked back to her cart and wheeled away, a plan growing in her mind.
* * *
The woman slept soundly, Jess could give her credit for that. Nothing seemed to wake her; not the click of the door’s lock, nor the opening of the kitchen drawer.
Jessica moved slowly on shoeless feet to the side of the bed. The moonlight fell on the woman’s sad face as she slept on, curled up in a ball. Jess almost felt sorry for her.
She moved closer to the figure on the bed, and raised the knife.