Authors: Jack Kilborn
a novel of terror
by Jack Kilborn
Copyright © 2010 by Jack Kilborn
Afterword copyright © 2010 by Joe Konrath
Cover and art copyright © 2010 by Carl Graves
Excerpt from Locked Doors copyright © 2010 by Blake Crouch
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living, dead, or undead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Joe Konrath.
We inflame wild beasts with the smell of blood, and then innocently wonder at the wave of brutal appetite that sweeps the land as a consequence.”
— Mark Twain
Your pain is no credential here.”
— Leonard Cohen
No one here gets out alive.”
— Jim Morrison
Maria unlocked the door to her room and was greeted by Abraham Lincoln.
The poster was yellowed with age, the edges tattered, and it hung directly over the queen-sized bed where the headboard would normally be. The adjoining walls were papered with postcards, all of them boasting various pictures and portraits of Lincoln. The single light in the room came from a floor lamp, the shade decorated with a collage of faded newspaper clippings, all featuring—big surprise—Lincoln.
So that’s why the crazy old proprietor called it the Lincoln Bedroom.
Maria pulled her suitcase in behind her, placed the room key on a scarred, old dresser, and turned the deadbolt. The door, like the lock, was heavy, solid. As reassuring as that was, this room still gave her the creeps. In fact, everything about this bed and breakfast gave her the creeps, from its remote and impossible-to-find location, to its run-down facade, to its eccentric decorations and menagerie of odd odors. But Maria didn’t have a choice. The hotel in town had overbooked, and this seemed to be the last room available in the entire state of West Virginia.
had become quite the popular event, with worldwide media coverage, and apparently they'd given her room reservation to some reporter. Which was ironic, because Maria was a registered contestant, and without contestants, there wouldn't be any need for reporters. The reporter was the one who should have been staying in the Lincoln Bedroom, with its bizarre decor and its strange smell of sandalwood mixed with spoiled milk.
Maria sighed. It didn't matter. All that mattered was a good night's sleep after more than twelve hours on the road. She'd missed her late night workout—this inn didn't have an exercise room—so the best she could hope for was a five mile run in the morning before getting back to the event hotel, which assured her it would have a room available tomorrow.
Actually, the hotel room will be ready later today.
A glance at the Lincoln clock on the nightstand showed it was past two in the morning.
She had promised to let Felix know when she got in, and pulled her cell phone out of her jeans, her thumbs a blur on the keyboard.
F — U R probably asleep. I M @ a creepy B&B, not the hotel. Long story, but it’s free. That = more $$$ to spend on our honeymoon.
WTL8R. TTFN, H2CUS, luv U — M.
Maria circled the room, holding her cell over her head, trying to find a signal while the floorboards creaked underfoot. When a single bar appeared, she sent the text message and walked to the poster. She placed her cell on the nightstand as a reminder to charge it before she went to sleep, hefted her suitcase onto the bed, and dug inside, freeing her make-up bag and taking it to the bathroom. She flipped on the light switch and was rewarded with the sight of President Lincoln's face on the toilet seat cover.
I’ll never look at a five dollar bill the same again,” she said, but her tone was without mirth. Rather than amusing, she was finding this whole Lincoln thing creepy.
Maria shut the door behind her—more out of habit than modesty—lifted the lid, undid her jeans, and sat down, the cold seat raising goosebumps on her tan thighs. She yawned, big and wide, as the long day caught up with her.
The bathroom, like the bedroom, was tiny. The sink was crowded next to the shower stall, and if Maria were a few inches taller her knees would touch the opposing wall. Hanging on that wall was a framed painting of Lincoln. A head and shoulders portrait of his younger years, before he had the famous beard. His ultra-realistic eyes seemed to be staring right at her.
Pervert,” Maria whispered.
Lincoln didn't reply.
Voices came through the wall. The same two men Maria had heard while checking in, arguing about some sports game, repeating the same points over and over. She listened to the floorboards creak and wondered if they'd keep it up all night, disturbing her sleep. The thought was quickly dismissed. At that moment, Maria was so tired she could have dozed through a Metallica concert.
She finished peeing, flushed, then turned on the faucet. The water was rust-colored. Last week Maria had read an article about water-borne bacteria, and she elected to brush her teeth with something safer. She turned off the water and set her toothbrush on the sink. Then she opened the bathroom door, picked her suitcase up off the floor, and placed it on the bed. Maria pulled out a half-empty bottle of
and was two steps to the bathroom when she froze.
Didn't I already put the suitcase on the bed?
A flush of adrenalin made Maria turn, her heart racing. She stared at the suitcase like it was a hostile creature, and then she hurried to the front door and eyed the knob.
Still locked. The key was where she'd left it, on the dresser.
Maria spun around, taking everything in. A small desk and chair were tucked in the corner of the room. The bed had a beige comforter and a matching dust ruffle, and it seemed undisturbed. The closet door was open, revealing an empty space. Tan curtains covered the window on the adjacent wall.
The curtains were fluttering.
Almost like someone is hiding behind them.
Her first instinct was to run, but common sense kicked in. She was on the second floor. It was doubtful someone had come in through the window and moved her luggage. A more likely explanation was she'd put the suitcase on the floor herself and was too tired to remember it. The curtains probably jerked because the window was open and a breeze was blowing in.
"You're exhausted," she said aloud. "You’re imagining things."
But Maria was sure she put the suitcase on the bed. She’d put it on its side and unzipped it to get her make-up bag. She was
Maybe it fell off?
But how could it fall and land perfectly on its wheels? And why didn't I hear it fall?
She stared at the suitcase again. It was heavy; packed alongside her clothes was an entire case of bottled water, a result of her recent germ phobia. The suitcase would have made noise hitting the floor. But all Maria heard from the bathroom was those men arguing, and...
The creaking,” she said aloud. “I heard the floors creaking.”
What if the creaking didn’t come from the room next door?
What if the creaking came from her room—from someone walking around?
Maria felt goosebumps break out on her arms.
What if that someone is still here?
She paused, unsure of what to do next. Her feet felt heavy. Her mouth became so dry her tongue stuck to her teeth. Maria knew the odds were high that her paranoia was the result of exhaustion. She also knew there was practically a zero likelihood someone had come into her room just to move her suitcase.
Maria clenched and unclenched her hands, eyes locking on the curtains. She made a decision.
I need to check.
She took a deep breath, let it out slow. Then she crept toward the window. The curtains were still, and Maria wondered if she'd imagined the fluttering. No light came through them even though they were thin. Not surprising—the inn was way out in the boonies, not another building for miles, and the tall pine trees obscured the moon and stars.
Either that, or someone is crouching on the window sill, blocking the light.
Maria swallowed, knowing she was psyching herself out, feeling the same kind of adrenaline tingles she got before a race.
Upstairs, the arguing abruptly ceased, mid-word. The room became deathly quiet, the only sound Maria's timid footfalls, creaking on the hardwood floor. The smell of rot in the room got stronger the closer she got to the window.
Could someone really be behind the curtains, ready to pounce?
Maria felt like she was nine-years-old again, playing hide and seek with her younger brother, Cameron. He loved to jump out and scream
at her, making her scream. For an absurd moment, she could picture Cam behind that curtain, hands raised, ready to leap out and grab her. One of her few pleasant childhood memories of Cam.
Then she pictured something else grabbing her. A filthy, hairy, insane maniac with a rusty knife.
Maria shook her head, trying to dispel the thought.
The thought wouldn't leave.
Get a grip,” she whispered. “There's nothing there.”
She was two feet away when the curtains moved again.
Like someone was poking them from the other side.
Maria flinched, jerking backward.
It’s just the wind.
It’s got to be.
It’s the wind,” she said through her clenched jaw.
The wind. Nothing more. Certainly not some creep climbing into my room.
But, what if...?
She thought about the pepper spray in her suitcase. Then she thought about just getting the hell out of there. Maria wished Felix was here with her. He'd find this whole situation ridiculously funny.
You compete in triathlons and you're too chicken to check a window?
No. I'm not chicken. I'm not afraid of anything.
But she got the pepper spray anyway, holding it out ahead of her like a talisman to ward off evil. She paused in front of the window, the curtains still.
Maria didn’t move.
Just do it.”
Maria set her jaw and in one quick motion swept back the curtains—
revealing bricks where the glass should have been.
She stared for a moment, confused, then felt a cool breeze on her arm.
There. In the corner. A hole in the mortar, letting the air in.
Maria let out an abrupt laugh. It sounded hollow in the tiny room. She gave the bricks a tentative push, just to make sure they were real and didn’t swing on hinges or anything. They were cold to the touch, as hard as stone could be.
Only a ghost could have gotten through that. And Maria didn’t believe in ghosts. Life had enough scary things in it without having to make stuff up.
She let the curtain fall, and thought of Cameron again. About the things he’d gone through. That was real horror. Not the wind blowing some curtains in a run-down, hillbilly bed and breakfast.
Maria hadn’t seen Cam in a few weeks, because of her training regimen. She promised herself she would visit the hospital, right after the event. Maybe Felix would come with, even though Cam seemed to creep him out.
He’ll do it anyway. Because he loves me.
Again, she wished Felix were here. He promised to be at the race on Saturday. Promised to rub her sore muscles afterward.
She glanced down at her left hand, at the pear-shaped diamond on her ring finger. Yellow, her favorite color. Sometimes hours would go by and she’d forget it was there, even though she’d only been wearing it for less than a week. Looking at it never failed to bring a smile.
Maria walked past the bed, glanced at the knob on the front door to make sure it was still locked, and mused about how she’d gotten herself all worked up over nothing.
She was heading back to the bathroom when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye.
The dust ruffle on the bed was fluttering.
Like something had disturbed it.
Something that had just crawled underneath.
Maria paused, standing stock-still. The fear kicked in again like an energy drink, and she could feel her heart in her neck as she tried to swallow.
some man under my bed.
Far-fetched as it may be, there was probably enough room for someone to fit under there. The bed was high up off the floor on its frame, with plenty of space for a man to slip underneath.
A filthy man with a rusty knife?
Maria gave her head a shake.
It’s the wind again.
No, it can’t be. This side of the bed isn’t facing the window.
Could be a rat.
I came in fourth in
last year. I’m not afraid of a little rat.”
Maria got on her hands and knees and began to crawl over to the bed.
What if there’s a man under there?
There won’t be.
But what if there is? What if he grabs me when I lift the dust ruffle?
Then I’ll squirt him in the eyes and kick his ass,” she said to herself.