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Authors: Scott Nicholson

Tags: #Fiction, #Stephen King, #Ghost, #Horror, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Suspense, #paranromal, #action, #Supernatural, #Ghosts, #haunted house, #Thriller

Speed Dating With the Dead

BOOK: Speed Dating With the Dead
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A man channels his dead wife during a paranormal conference, disturbing demons at a haunted hotel where even angels can’t be trusted.

 

 

SPEED DATING WITH THE DEAD

By Scott Nicholson

 

 

Table of Contents

Copyright 2010 Scott Nicholson

Published by Haunted Computer Books

www.hauntedcomputer.com

Links to Scott’s books at
Amazon US
and
Amazon UK

 

 

For my #1 fan and #1 stalker…you know who you are.

Speed Dating with the Dead

 

Chapter 1

 

“And here’s our most haunted room, Mr. Wilson.”

The brass name plate over the hostess’s breast read “Violet,” an old-fashioned name that didn’t match her JC Penney pants suit. Early twenties and attractive, the make-up failed to hide the hard years around her eyes. But Wayne Wilson had logged his own hard years, and he hid them in the coffin of his heart.

“Call me ‘Digger,’“ he said.

“‘Digger’?” Violet said.

“I have this little undertaker thing going on,” he admitted, feeling a bit sheepish under her blue-eyed stare. “The top hat and Victorian coattails. Part of the gig.”

Wow. Beth, if you really are here, you’ll see what a cartoon I’ve become.

But the dead stayed dead, and the best thing about them was they weren’t in a position to second guess. But the worst thing about them was they weren’t around when you needed them.

“So, have you ever had any experiences here?” Wayne asked, eyeing the décor and fighting the rush of memories.

“I’ve never had a honeymoon, and I would choose somewhere a little more exotic than the North Carolina mountains. Like maybe Dollywood or Paris.”

“I meant ‘supernatural experiences.’“

“Just those brain-dead zombies who hit on me at the bar.”

Wayne was only half listening. The master bedroom of Room 318 had changed little since his stay 17 years earlier. The roses on the wallpaper had yellowed, and each wall held an autumnal mountain landscape. Imitation Queen Anne furniture, chipped and scarred by cigarette burns, a plush purple carpet in which rodents could reproduce, and the king-size, four-poster bed were the same as his honeymoon night.

Even the throw pillows appeared unchanged, skinned in greasy satin and leaning against the headboard the same way his and Beth’s heads had leaned on a cold autumn night. Before they opened the door.

“The manager’s pleased you chose the White Horse for your conference,” Violet said.

I didn’t choose. I was chosen.

“You have quite a reputation,” Wayne said.

Nobody keeps their ghosts secret for long.”

“Ghosts are good for business. Especially in the off-season.”

“It should be good for both of us.”

“We booked about 50 for the weekend.”

“Too bad you can’t charge your invisible guests. You’ve got at least three here in 318.”

“Ah, you’ve been browsing the Ghost Register,” she said, referring to the journal at the front desk where guests and staff had faithfully recorded their encounters.

One of the victims had been a stock broker who had suffered a heart attack during his honeymoon, and though the urban legend maintained he’d died on top of his new wife, the Rescue Squad report said he’d been discovered on the floor with half a corn dog in his mouth and an empty bottle of champagne sitting in a tin bucket of water.

The second was a jumper, a documented death in which a distraught tool fabricator had launched into a frothing rant about a two-timing, backstabbing bitch before launching himself off the balcony in a fall that would likely have resulted in nothing more than a few fractures if he’d have missed the lamp post. You could call it coincidence, you could call it bad luck, but it made for a better campfire tale if you called it “the Wicked Hand of Evil.”

The third victim was the most interesting to Wayne, because it didn’t have the glib familiarity of the other deaths, which were not much different than those suffered at any of America’s century-old hotels. As the manager, a powder-dry walking mummy named Janey Mays, had put it, any building with a few generations behind it would end up with a slate of strange happenings.

Janey hadn’t recognized him from his long-ago visit. But why should she? He was young and happy then, a clean-shaven newlywed and 100-percent demon free.

“What do you know about Margaret Percival?” Wayne asked Violet.

“Just the stuff in the register.” Violet opened the television cabinet as if to make sure the maids hadn’t stolen the TV.

“West Virginia woman, checked into this room in February, 1948.”

“I don’t think the color scheme has changed since then.” She whacked the dark floral pattern on the velour curtain, and a lazy haze of dust spun in the sunlit window.

Margaret was a war widow, in town for a reunion of the Camp Creek Sisterhood, a collective of well-to-do white teenagers who spent the summers of the Great Depression in their one-piece, baggy swimsuits, canoeing, singing “Tomorrow” around the fire, and talking about boys, when they weren’t sneaking off in the dead of night to meet them at movie theaters and fumble in the dark.

Perhaps the reunion was an opportunity to recapture the lost innocence of youth, or perhaps Margaret was seeking a veneer of respectability after a notorious past. But she never made it to the reunion luncheon, because between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. early one Sunday, she vanished from the face of the Earth. Police reports hinted that she might have been in the “family way,” and a single mother and alleged prostitute might sneak across the border to get rid of the problem.

Hotel management built their businesses on reputation, and mysterious disappearances were the kind of publicity they wanted to avoid. It was a measure of how far the White Horse Inn had fallen that it was now cashing in on its seedier, supernatural side.

Just like me
.
We’ve both been ridden hard since our paths last crossed.

And there was a fourth case study, totally off the record, one that Wayne carried in his guts like a latex glove full of broken, bloody glass. He’d delayed his return as long as he could, but Beth might not wait forever.

Violet moved over to the bedside dresser, where the alarm clock was blinking. “Old wiring,” she said. “The radio cuts on by itself, too.”

“Let me guess. I’ll be awoken at three every morning by the theme song from ‘The Exorcist.’“

The room’s angles, like those of the rest of the inn, were off by two or three degrees in every joint. Sagging floors and ceiling joists, warped window casings, and uneven spaces between cracks in the crown molding projected a sense of decay and despair.

The unease came from an expectation of order, and the skewed geometry made a distinct impact on the brain. It added a pressure that caused skin to tingle and lungs to stutter, all tricks the mind played on the body. Combined with the out-of-whack wiring that scrambled the electrical signals of the brain, the structure made a wonderful laboratory for the living.

And a fun playground for the dead.

Violet reset the clock while Wayne examined the size of the room, calculating how many hunters the place would hold. He could have booked the room in private, set up some gear, and conducted his own private little tea party, but hosting a paranormal conference gave the necromancy the sheen of respectability. Plus it offered the fringe benefit of not facing his demons alone.

But he should have left
her
out of it.

He peeked through the curtains. Below, Kendra was perched on a concrete bench, pencil flying, lost in her own little fantasy world. She was portable and self-sufficient, and Wayne not only encouraged those attributes, he took full advantage of them.

“You don’t believe in ghosts?” Wayne asked.

“Do you?”

“Depends.”

“Talk to the maids. They know it all.”

“The honeymoon sheets keep no secrets, they say.”

“Depends on the secrets,” she said, opening the closet door.

There’s more to you than meets the eye. Too bad. This could have been fun.

He followed her, trying to detect her natural scent beneath the various aerosols the housekeepers had used to refresh the room. He kept a prudent distance, though the closet opening was tiny, and the best he got was a whiff of something that smelled like it had a celebrity’s name on the bottle. He had no intention of being one of those aforementioned losers, but he wanted to stay in practice in case he ever felt romantic again. Since Beth, the means and motive had rarely coincided.

Violet pointed to the closet ceiling, where an access panel was cut into the gypsum board. “You get to the attic here,” she said. “Miss Mays said you had all access for the weekend.”

Wayne passed up the chance for a lame double
entendre
, and he couldn’t recall the access from his previous visit. But they’d spent more time in the bed than in the closet. “Was this access in existence back in 1948?”

“You’re thinking Margaret Percival slipped though here, found another way outside, bypassed the front desk and her security deposit, left her Packard in the parking lot, and hitchhiked away to start a new life?”

“It’s one theory.” Wayne noticed black streaks on the wall, probably made by the shoes of people who had scrambled upward in search of the missing woman’s spirit. Margaret was an Internet urban legend, and Wayne had researched more than a few sketchy photos on various paranormal sites.

“The service stairs run along the back, to the kitchen and laundry rooms. Margaret could have used the side doors, except those were kept locked because the manager didn’t want the hired help to sneak out, either. This was back before excessive fire and safety regulations.”

“I noticed the sprinkler system was an add-on,” Wayne said, indicating the sprinkler system that hung suspended six inches below the ceiling. “These pipes don’t do a whole lot to promote elegance.”

“The White Horse gave up on elegance in the 1960s,” Violet said. “Since then, we’ve been selling ‘quaint.’“

“With appropriate rate increases along the way.”

“A hotel is like a woman, Digger.” Violet made a sudden turn and her face was eight inches from his, but for only a moment, and then she flitted back to the dresser, where the alarm clock was blinking again. “She not only gets better with age, she makes it an asset.”

“But her wiring gets a little more temperamental,” Wayne said. Blinking lights and power surges gave a thrill to those who accepted them as proof of visitation. If they needed so little to believe, then who was Wayne to question their faith? It was no different than seeing the Virgin Mary in buttered toast or the devil’s face in the smoke of a terrorist attack.

Or believing in the face that stared back from the mirror. Where was the proof in
that
?

“We undergo our annual inspections, and our hotel is up to code,” Violet said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have guests waiting.”

Wayne stepped into the bathroom, where a cast-iron, claw-foot tub sat off the floor. He and Beth had played there, soap bubbles, laughter, candles, and champagne. The dripping faucet, inaudible in the bedroom, echoed with a stony resonance. The bad lighting and the rippled, frosted mirror over the vanity would give suggestible people plenty of shivers.

“This will do,” Wayne called. “But I’ll need a cot brought in for my daughter. And some paranormal activity for my customers.”

“Sorry, we don’t have any Indian graveyards,” Violet said. “No axe murders, no hung preachers, no hillbilly vampires.”

Thunder rolled down the hall, accompanied by giggles of mirth. Wayne frowned. The hardcore purists didn’t like busy, noisy traffic that contaminated their evidence, and children were the worst. He didn’t recall anyone registering children for the conference, and while he didn’t forbid it, the ghost-hunting crowd generally followed an adults-only rule. After all, they tended to miss bedtime.

“I thought the hotel was blocked off for the conference,” Wayne said, tightening the faucet handle to no avail. “I didn’t know there would be small children here this weekend.”

“The children are always here,” Violet said, and by the time Wayne entered the bedroom, she was gone, out the door with not even a whisper of its closing.

Nice exit line.

Children underfoot or not, Wayne had picked the perfect place to stage his traveling freak show. But he’d already known that, because of the promise he’d made 17 years ago. Much had changed since then, including his view of promises.

He went downstairs to retrieve his gear and his daughter, dreading the weight of both.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

BOOK: Speed Dating With the Dead
5.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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