Hello! I’ve written here and there all my life and I’ve always been drawn to the horror genre. I’m a good friend and giant fan of Ivy so I was very excited to take part in this! I hope you all enjoy what I have to share!
I’ve been driving for a while now. The radio is low and I have to focus to make out the words through the static. The cheap rental car was supposed to have Bluetooth but I’d already killed forty-five at the lot trying to figure it out. I have my father’s temper and I knew if I kept going I’d have ripped its dials right out and felt all the better for it.
The same pop songs had been narrating my trek back to Georgia but I’d stopped caring somewhere in North Carolina.
I should have flown.
It is, of course, not the first time I’d regretted my decision to drive the twelve hours from my college in Virginia to the southernmost tip of Georgia. I knew why I did it, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t stupid.
I reach to crank the nasally pop star’s voice a little louder, drowning out my train of thought. It was late and I needed sleep. Coffee only did so much and I had worked the night shift the day before— well, this morning.
I touch the screen of my phone, squinting at the bright light of its screen. Cursing as I tap and swipe violently at the device to tone down its intensity. The GPS tells me what I already know. I am in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but a small town a few miles ahead. Red Cove.
There was a slim chance it had a hotel, hell, even a bed and breakfast. The tired sags at my eyes like two lead weights. Pain creeping into my bones. I’ve gone and done it now. Recognizing tired was the come down out of shock I didn’t need. It took my brain from “we should rest” to “WE ARE EXHAUSTED. GET US TO A BED NOW.” It was screaming it now and I could feel it like a bass drum behind my eyes
I spoke the Devil’s name of Sleep knowing all too well the only conclusion.
I had to find a place in Red Cove or I’d be sleeping in the backseat.
There was no way in geriatric, tapioca hell I was finding a place in Red Cove. The place was so asleep I could smell the hospice care from the street. Houses and stores so dark they blotted out against the night and left only the orange illuminated path of street lights.
I felt my father’s rage rise to a boil, a snarl curling at my lip. A wall of yells and curses behind it, held back only by the fraying control of my tongue.
Neon salvation. It stops the scream short in my throat. The sign puttering to life at the top of a hill. That beautiful, glorious sign. I’m not the religious sort but I could weep here and now.
The Pink Flamingo, redundant, but fitting considering its out-of-date architecture and pink accents. The empty lot. But it’s open and there’s a bed somewhere with my name on it.
The front desk is unmanned as I walk in, a small bell dinging from above. A few seconds pass before a frizzy crown of white hair sticks out from a wooden door at the back. STAFF ONLY.
“Oh!” She’s surprised, shuffling into full view. Ladle in hand, which she set down on the counter. Mid-seventies from what I could tell, that same confused air my grandmother had before it degraded to full-blown dementia. I smile, or try to, I’d never been so great with the elderly.
I blame my grandmother. Not the one with dementia. The evil one.
“I was looking for a place to stay,” I say, though it sounds like a question, “Any rooms available?:”
This earned a laugh, “Sure, I do! Every last one of them, this is off-season. And it’s the middle of the week.” There was a twinkle to her eye now, the confusion gone. She lifts the ladle again, “I was thinking maybe you were a thief.”
I manage to laugh, softly. The tired had sapped all the humor from my voice. The idea of this trip ending with myself bludgeoned by a ladle felt like a dream. I was nowhere near home yet and I already didn’t want to be there.
When she stares at me, I stare back. Seconds pass I think they could have passed into eternity easily. With us, staring blankly at one another. Immobile. Statues trapped in a hotel that was suspended in time.
“Well!” she said, blessedly breaking the connection, “let’s just get you checked in.”
I smile again, trying a little harder, but my teeth grit together, “Yes, let’s.”
The room is what I expected. Dimly lit. Old, scratchy comforters and questionable cleanliness. Delores, the owner, had decided to lead me to the room unfortunately trapping me into awkward small talk about how few visitors she had in the off season. Too cold to draw anyone to the coast.
I was a surprise. A welcome one, she insisted. Eventually, the conversation dies and she leaves.
Finally, blessedly, I am alone.
The door shuts behind me and I try not to rush to lock it, turning the deadbolt slowly. Silently. Only letting it click into place when the sound of her steps have fully faded.
I stand in front of the bed, its aged comforter reflected by the dingy color of the four walls surrounding me. I want to collapse into it, cradled in its filth as sleep claims me. But I don’t want tomorrow to come. I don’t want to finish the drive I began so many hours ago. Years ago it felt. Only now are my thoughts catching up.
My father. My sisters. That Place.
I run my hand soothingly over my throat, unsurprised at how my fingers tremble. I am a child, dwarfed by my memories. They are Goliath and I have no rocks.
Slowly, I let out a long breath and I turn for the bathroom. I’ve never been good at facing my problems. Procrastination feels like a familiar friend. Far less scary than the shadow of fear clinging to my back.
The bathroom is in no better condition than the rest of the room. A chipped mirror and peeling paint. It’s hard to resist curling my nose as I take it in. It’s hard to imagine what the rest looks like if this is the best. Beggars can’t be choosers I decide with a shake of my head and twist the faucet on.
I lean over the water for a moment, watching it flow into the drain imagining my thoughts circle down with it. The meditation is ruined by the sharp memory of my sister’s voice.
“Please come home.”
I squeeze my eyes shut tight and let the water fill my hands before splashing it over my face. Once. Twice.
The water drained out and I almost expected to see something in it. I’m not sure what. My soul maybe. Another sigh and I push back, leaning up and raking my eyes quickly over my haggard expression. No wonder Delores had carried her ladle. ‘Rough’ wasn’t harsh enough a word for how I looked.
“Fuck,” the growl gripped me, throat sore from the hours and days and weeks of silence. I had never made any friends in the new town— I wasn’t exactly sad about it either. I was fine to be on my own. I’d shared a room with someone my entire life and the solitude was a hard-won victory I was not yet ready to give up.
I can’t help staring at the dark pools of skin under my eyes. The way my pale complexion drained paler, almost gray in the fluorescent. The room shifted behind me, light bleeding to one side and then the other. A shadow floating, a large one, almost humanoid.
It could have been the lights flickering, tricking my eyes but my heart feels like ice. The skin at the back of my neck prickles as I turn, searching the empty room.
I rub away the feeling and march toward the bed. I needed sleep
This motel sucked.
It’s empty, quiet as the grave and all I can do is stare at its dusty popcorn ceiling. It might not all be the motel to blame, but I am running low on self-reflection. The closest I’ve gotten to therapy is a number scrawled onto a post-it. Ergo, scapegoat.
This motel was anti-sleep.
There was a heavy sound in the hallway, something solid hitting the ground. Not in front of my room, perhaps the one next door. The place was so quiet I could hear the jingle of a key and I couldn’t help but be shocked. Even disbelieving. Another unfortunate soul? Here in this motel of perpetual consciousness and rock-like pillows?
I wish my new neighbor a bit of silent good luck and close my eyes again.
The thudding is back and it’s different this time. It’s against the wall. I would think I had managed to stumble on the hook-up palace but I’d seen the surrounding town and the thuds were too irregular. Too violent. They sounded more like—
Something heavy struck the wall above my head. So hard the plaster seemed to shake with it and I let out a scared yelp. My hands slap over my mouth as the room next door fell silent. Not in the same way it was before my mystery friend. No, this time it felt sinister. Like a foggy street with no sound and no people.
Suddenly there was someone at my door. Knock. Knock. Knockknock. KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK.
I rolled onto the ground, crawling silently and pressing my back to the wall under the curtained window. I put my hands over my mouth and hold my breath.
The knocks were so loud, so violent the door shook.
Sudden and unnerving.
I waited, straining to listen and once I was sure they had left the door I ran for the phone and dialed the front desk.
Delores’ soft voice lit up on the other side of the phone. “How can I help you, dear?” She asked cheerfully.
“Hey— uh, the guy— the room next to me,” I searched the shared wall, convinced whoever was there was listening in. “He’s doing some weird—”
“Oh, well, sweetie no one else has checked in…”
“I heard someone.”
“It’s an old building and well… maybe you’re a bit tired dear. I haven’t seen a single person on camera.” Her tone was placating, patient, and utterly annoying.
“Fine,” I grit out, hearing the threatening rise of my anger.
“I’ll just go give it a look and maybe that will help you rest easy.”
Yes, yes, yes. I chant in my head before reminding myself of her age, her fragility.
“I’ll check with you,” I offer, eyes closing as force myself to offer when it’s the last thing I want to be doing. I hang up the phone and start for the door. I pause, turn back and fish the pepper spray out of my bag.
Not much, but in a pinch.
Delores was already there when I opened the door to the hall, clucking her tongue good-naturedly at the small canister in my hand. I shrug.
I have more years left than her, can’t waste it on some creepy motel strangler.
Key, hole, and the lock fell open. She pushes the door open with a surety I lacked in any area of my own life and steps right in.
“Hello?” She calls and my heart leaps into my throat, arms lifting to grab her. Carry her out of danger myself if need be. But there was no answer, no sound. Just an empty, dark room.
We check the bathroom for good measure. I should have felt better about its emptiness but it sat strangely in my stomach. I follow Delores, hand pressed there against the front. My thank you is brief and goodbyes even briefer.
Once again, I am alone in my room.
Somehow, sleep found me.
I had hoped to wake up to the rising sun, to squeal out of the parking lot and back onto the road with a semi-sane mind. But the alarm clock on the side table is laughing at me in bright red.
The irony was it would be the first time in years I would have been happy to be on the road back home. I rub my wrists, soothing myself as more and more memories fought to the front of my brain. A tumor my sister had said on the phone that morning—God, was it really so recent— they found it on his brain. There was an out of place hope in her voice as if she’d found the answer to years of shared trauma. Here it was the reason for unreason. The cause and the cure.
I wasn’t so easy to convince, but my sister’s had never seen what I saw. That path in our genes. Packed down tight from years and years of walking.
It was cancerous, but it didn’t begin and end with my father.
I’m sitting up now. Fingers twisting around my wrists as I look around the dark room. I’m about to flop backward again when it starts. The running water. The hiss of a showerhead coming to life.
I must have a death wish I think as I swing my legs out of bed. On the brightside, if I die I don’t have to confront the confusing feelings of my father’s failing health. The relief and the shamed sadness of that reality.
It’s procrastination in a way and it is as always— a welcome friend.
I stand, moving to the bathroom slowly. The steam begins to obscure the light that flickers on. An unwelcome encouragement that I am doing exactly as it wants.
The bathroom isn’t different, but in my mind I am years in the past.
Shower running, curtain closed, steam fogging the window.
I reach out, fingers wrapping around the curtain. There will be no one there.
I rip the curtain to the side and it’s empty. Nothing but water falling, rolling down the sides of the pale pink tub. I can’t help but laugh, avoiding the scalding water as I twist the water back off
Shaking my head at myself, at the brief though that there would be something— someone there.
I turn, determined to head back to my bed and sleep until the sun is up and then get the hell out of dodge.
Instead, when I turn, I see my mother. Naked, brown curls wet. And there is blood. So much blood, it pours from her wrists and pools at our feet.
I am paralyzed, my jaw hangs open, her hand caresses my face. I can feel the warm slick of blood clinging where she’s touched.
“Cammy,” she says softly and then she’s gone.
And finally, finally. After years and years of holding it back. Of never caving. Never breaking.
“Fuck this,” I shove my pajamas back into my duffel and swing my keys into my palm, “Fuck that. You can keep my sixty dollars. I’m out! Bye creepy motel! Hope you burn!”
I raise my middle finger to the now deserted room and grab the door knob, twisting and yanking it open. It doesn’t budge. I yank again and again and again. More violently each time until I am screaming and kicking the door.
“DELORES,” I yell but the room is already morphing around me. The shadows are growing, I lunge for the phone but it’s already gone. Already swallowed. The walls pulse. And now, I am frantic.
Panicking as I yank open the drawers of each dresser. I find wallets and watches, loose change, and folded papers. One says run, in scratchy capital letters. But it’s too late now.
The drawers are filling with blood, from the bottom up like a bathtub until it’s running in rivers down their sides. Puddling on the carpet.
There’s nowhere else to go, the room is caving in around me. Warm and slick. Visceral. I am here in the maw of this monster.
And then I am in the bathroom, it’s brighter now and the door is closed. Beyond it I can hear gurgling. When I stand I leave bloodied footprints and my hands are coated too.
Bile rises in me and I barely make it to the toilet.
“Cammy,” a cool hand soothes at the back of my neck. I tense, it pats, “Shh, sweet girl. I won’t hurt you.” This time it is not my mother’s voice.
Slowly I turn my head, given the situation I can’t be bothered to care about the sick still clinging from my lips. It was hard to tell if she was dressed for another time or if it was just another example of old fashion returning to modernity.
Blonde hair fanned backward, blue eyeshadow, and a crocheted dress. Her smile was soft but a touch impatient. Eyes darting to the door that separated us from the horrors outside.
“What is going on, who are you?’“ I have more questions but her look stops me short.
“Now, you know we don’t have time for that.”
“I don’t know anything about what’s going on here,” I snarl, shoving away from the toilet and pressing my back against the tub. She sits in front of me. The comfortable way she settles and crosses her legs infuriates me. “How did you get in here? Do you work here? Unlock the door and let me out.”
“Been here, no, and you can’t get out that way,” her tone is chiding.
“What do you mean? It’s a door, open it.”
“How did that go for you when you tried?”
I fell silent.
“Exactly,” I notice now that her drawl is much like mine, soft and long, “Really only two ways out to be sure, well, if you’re smart enough and leave early enough—” she shrugs, “but that’s not us. Tired, desperate, so used to staying.” She smiled, almost knowingly. Hands resting on her knees with an echoing slap.
“…Two ways?” I ask, the confusion brings an edge to my voice and she looks at me levelly, “What— What others?”
She waves a hand dismissively, “Oh, they’re not here anymore. I suspect that’s what happens when you go that way,” she points to the door.
“And what— you found the secret way out? Where is it?” My voice is desperate for the sliver of hope, and it is quickly squashed by her reaction.
Her smile is sly but almost sad, a combination I don’t remember seeing on anyone else’s face. She shook her head and pointed to the tub. “I went that way.” For a moment, no more than a second there is blood streaked along the tub. I close my eyes tightly.
“I don’t wanna go that way,” I say quickly, harshly.
It is quiet and when I open my eyes I expect her to be gone, but she isn’t. She’s still there, smiling patiently and almost serenely.
“I expected not,” she nodded, knowingly and moving to stand. “It will feed. But it’s likely forgotten I’m still here. So, you’re gonna do me a favor. I’m gonna walk out there and the sun’s gonna rise. And you’re gonna make sure no one else finds this place, you hear me?”
I stare at her, lost, confused, but she seems to accept it as agreement.
My words find me at last.
I have no idea what’s happening, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever understand that. I am tired and sapped of my fear after so long of feeling nothing but. I watch her as she stands at the door.
“What’s your name?” I ask and when she turns there is a measure of excitement to her look.
“Rose,” she looks behind me, lost in a memory, “It’s been nice, talking to you both but–… it makes me lonely, too. Knowing you’ll leave, it’s wrong of me, but I’d hoped you would choose my path “
She turns to look at the door. “But this is for the better, you should close your eyes. Sleep. Better not see this.”
I can’t remember much of what happened after that to be honest. Rose opened the door and the smell of rot and sick hit me so hard I feel dizzy just remembering.
And then it was over, the sun filtered into the open bathroom door and I felt myself shiver against the tile. Nothing was left of the night. No blood, no smell. No Rose.
I didn’t waste much time thinking about it, scooping my bag and keys back up. Hesitating at the door knob but it turned easily in my hands. My laugh was shocked, relieved as I stood out in that walkway, basking in the sunlight.
It wasn’t Delores there when I dropped off my keys but the pierced attendant seemed equally surprised to see me leave as the woman had been to see me show up last night.
I drop the keys onto the counter, biting my tongue for fear of the cops getting called on me before I can keep my promise. I want to tell the woman Delores is nothing like my sweet but addled grandmother. Instead, I have decided, she is very much like the mean one. The evil one.
But I don’t waste my breath.
I am back in the familiar and unfamiliar rental car, the same staticky station buzzing to life as the engine rumbles. There’s a gas station just across the street and I fill up as many gallon jugs as will fit in the trunk of my car. A lighter and a newspaper to be safe.
I would be gone by the time the police were here. It was an old building. It would catch, something in me knew it without a doubt as I watched the flame lick up the walls.
For a moment I am mesmerized, a fog in my mind as I climb into the car and coast to the parking lot exit.
I am here and I am alive. Ahead of me are two paths. One is familiar and straightforward. The other is twisting and winding.
I let out a long breath, one I’ve been holding all my life.
Thank you to our anonymous friend for contributing this gorgeous story this Friday!