Read The Ninth Nightmare Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror, #Serial Murderers, #Circus, #Crime, #Supernatural, #Freak Shows, #Horror Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural

The Ninth Nightmare (2 page)

BOOK: The Ninth Nightmare
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She stared at the bathroom door. Maybe she should call the management. Maybe there was some kind of noxious gas coming out of the bathroom drains that made you see things that weren't really there.
She switched on her bedside lamp. Instantly, the whole bedroom was different. It was no longer a comfortable four-star hotel room. It wasn't even on the seventh floor any more; it was down at ground level. The walls were blotchy and discolored and the plaster looked diseased with damp. All the way around the room there was the same wooden paneling as the laundry room, with chipped cream paint. The floorboards were bare, except for a frayed, rucked-up rug, and it looked as if the floor hadn't been swept in years.
At the single window hung a shredded net curtain, gray with dirt. Through the grimy window-panes, Katie could make out the back of a row of houses, with roofs that were shining wet in the rain, and fire escapes, and sodden washing hanging hopelessly from one balcony to another.
She looked down at the bedcover she was holding in her hand. It was olive-green, thin and greasy, and it was covered in brownish stains. Her pillows were stained, too, and deeply indented, as if the same person had been sleeping on them every night and never changed them or even turned them over.
The bed stank, too, of dried sweat and dirty hair and other people's sex.
Katie switched off the lamp. Her hotel bedroom returned, Room 717, comfortable and warm and quiet now, and smelling of nothing but her own Chanel Premiere perfume and freshly-laundered sheets. In spite of that, she was shaking with fear and disgust, and she felt as if the floor were tilting underneath her like an ocean liner in a swell. She tried to stand up, but she lost her balance and had to sit back down on the bed again.
She stayed there for a moment, breathing deeply, trying to steady herself, and then she picked up her cellphone and called David's number. It rang and rang but he didn't pick up. Eventually she was put through to his message service.
‘David, darling, it's me. Can you call me back as soon as you get this? It's really hard to explain but there's something wrong.' Her voice started to waver, so she took a deep breath. Then she said, ‘It's probably just
me
, being hysterical. But I'm so frightened. I daren't switch off the light because when I switch off the light everything's different and horrible. Please, please call me.'
She sat and waited about a minute longer. Then she thought:
this is ridiculous. I know I'm not going crazy, so there must be something wrong with the room
. She picked up the house phone and pressed zero for reception. She didn't care if it was almost twelve thirty in the morning. She just wanted to change rooms.
Again, the phone rang and rang but nobody picked up. She hung up and tried again, but still nobody answered. She tried room service, and then housekeeping. No reply from either of them.
There had to be somebody on duty. A night porter, or a security guard. She put down the phone, went over to her suitcase and took out a mustard-colored roll-neck sweater and a pair of jeans. She dressed herself quickly and tugged a brush through her hair. She stared at herself in the mirror on the back of the closet door and tried to look determined.
I want another room, and I want it now, and I don't have to tell you why.
Katie opened the door and stepped outside. The door closed itself behind her, with a soft, complicated click. The corridor was in darkness. Maybe the lights were on a time switch, or maybe a breaker had tripped. She put her right hand out to feel the wall beside her, but instead of the silky fabric which she had expected, she felt scabby paint and rough, damp plaster.
‘Oh God,' she said. ‘Not out here, too.'
She began to see shapes in the gloom, and she realized that she wasn't standing in a hotel corridor at all, but in the hallway of somebody's house, with coats and hats hanging on pegs like a row of witches hanging from a gallows. She could dimly see a hall stand, with umbrellas and walking sticks in it, and the stained-glass panels in a front door, in amber and sickly yellow. She could see that it was daylight outside, and she could hear that it was raining.
There was a
smell
, too. Not bleach and fish, like the laundry room, but dust and dry rot and stale flower-water. It felt to Katie as if the occupants had left the house in the expectation that they would soon be returning, but never had.
She closed her eyes for a few seconds. When she opened them again, she was still standing in the hallway. She listened, and she was sure that she could faintly hear a radio playing, and the laughter of a studio audience.
‘Hallo?' she called out. She took three steps along the hallway, until she was standing next to the witch coats. ‘Hallo?' she repeated, louder this time.
She took another two steps forward, and now she could see that the living-room door was ajar, and she could hear the radio much more distinctly. A woman's voice was saying, ‘
It's my birthday tomorrow, George, and I'm expecting you to buy me a present
.'
‘
So
 . . .' replied a man's voice. He sounded like an African-American. ‘
You finally hit the roaring forties
.'
‘
I'll have you know that I didn't see the light of day until nineteen-thirteen
,' the woman retorted.
‘
Holy mackerel!
' said the man. ‘
You must have been walking around for the first ten years of your life with your eyes closed!
'
There was a surge of laughter from the audience. Katie took a step backward, and then another. She had never heard the show before, but she knew where the catchphrase ‘
holy mackerel!
' came from. Kingfish, one of the characters from
Amos'n'Andy,
which hadn't been aired on the radio since the mid-1950s.
There was more laughter, louder and longer, and Katie began to panic, as if the studio audience were laughing at
her
. She hurried back down the hallway and fumbled in her back jeans pocket for her room key. When she reached out for the door handle, however, she found that she didn't need it. The door was an ordinary six-paneled house door, and the handle was a simple plastic knob.
She pushed the door open and stepped back into her bedroom, gasping with fright. For a split second, the bedroom was just as it had been before, Room 717 at the Griffin House Hotel. But then, with a sharp pop, the bulb in the bedside lamp went off, and the room was drowned in darkness again.
Katie stayed where she was, still panting, with her back against the door. She could see the gray light that strained in through the window, and hear the rain pattering. She could smell that bleachy-fishy smell, too, and that greasy odor from the bed linen, except that there were some fresh smells that were even stronger than both of them. A metallic smell, like blood, and another appalling smell that made Katie's gorge rise.
She could still faintly hear the
Amos'n'Andy
show behind the door. But then a voice much nearer, a woman's voice, said, ‘
Help me
.'
Katie pressed her hand over her nose and her mouth. She stepped toward the bed and as she came closer she could see that there was a red-haired woman lying in it, a red-haired woman with a very white face, almost as if she had made herself up to look like a Venetian carnival mask.
‘
Help me
,' she repeated, and held out one hand.
Katie came around the end of the bed and stood beside her, but not too close. The woman looked about twenty-seven or twenty-eight, although her white pancake make-up was cracked and fissured, and her eyes were smudged black with mascara, so it was difficult to tell for sure.
‘Who are you?' Katie asked her. ‘What is this place? Where are we?'
‘
Please
,' the woman begged her, and suddenly a dark runnel of blood slid out of the side of her mouth and on to the pillow.
‘What's wrong with you?' asked Katie. She was afraid to approach any nearer in case the woman was suffering from some kind of infectious disease.
The woman took hold of the corner of the quilt with one hand and tried to pull it off her, but she obviously didn't have the strength. Katie hesitated for a moment and then she reached across and drew it back herself.
‘Oh God,' she said. ‘What happened to you?'
Beneath the quilt, the woman was covered with a sheet, but the sheet was sodden and shiny and dark. That was the metallic smell that had overwhelmed Katie when she first came back into the room – the smell of blood.
‘I couldn't stop him,' said the woman, so quietly now that Katie could hardly hear her. ‘I tried, but he was much too strong for me.'
She tried to raise her head from the pillow, but she couldn't. Katie said, ‘Don't try to move. I'll call nine-one-one.'
She looked around. There was no nightstand beside the bed, no lamp, and no phone. She dug in the front pocket of her jeans and took out her cellphone, but when she flipped it open the screen was blank. Wherever this bedroom was, it was a dead area, out of range of any cellphone signals.
‘Look,' she said, trying to keep herself calm, ‘I've had a little training in first aid. Let me try to stop the bleeding. Then I can go find somebody to help you.'
‘It's no use,' the woman told her. More blood welled out of the side of her mouth and the stain on the pillow grew wider.
‘I can try,' Katie insisted. ‘Look – I can tear up this other sheet and use it as a bandage.'
‘It's no use,' the woman repeated.
‘Just let me take a look,' said Katie. ‘I promise I'll try not to hurt you.'
The woman shook her head as if she couldn't understand what language she was speaking in. Katie pinched the blood-soaked sheet between finger and thumb and tugged at it. It felt cold, and wet, and sticky.
‘No,' the woman whispered.
‘I'm so sorry, but I have to. If I can't stop the bleeding, you may not make it.'
The woman didn't argue any more. She just lay on the pillow, staring unblinkingly at Katie with her green filmy eyes, like somebody who wants to remember a friend they are never likely to see again.
Katie pulled the sheet right off her, and folded it back. At first she couldn't understand what she was looking at. But even when she realized what the red-haired woman's assailant had done to her, she could still barely believe it, and she stood by the side of the bed, utterly stunned, unable to think what she could possibly do next.
‘I tried to stop him,' the woman murmured. Her eyes closed and for a moment Katie thought that she might have died, but when she leaned over her, she could see that she was still breathing, with a sticky catch in her throat. Katie couldn't imagine how she had survived at all, let alone managed to speak.
She waited for almost five minutes, biting the joint of her left thumb as if to reassure herself that she was still real, and that she hadn't lost her mind, and occasionally letting out a breathy little
unh
, like a sob. After a while she couldn't hear the woman breathing any longer, but she couldn't summon up the nerve to feel her pulse to make sure that she was dead.
She turned around and walked stiffly across to the laundry-room door. The light was still shining inside it, and she prayed that it was still her hotel bathroom. She looked back at the woman lying on the bed. She didn't know who she was or what she had suffered, but she felt as if she had let her down, even though she had been powerless to save her. Her only consolation was that nobody could have saved her.
She opened the door. Inside, the bathroom was so bright and shiny that she raised her hand to shield her eyes. She closed the door behind her and locked it. She washed her hands in the basin and rinsed the swirl of blood down the drain. She kept her eyes lowered so that she wouldn't have to look at her reflection in the mirror, in case her reflection was doing something else. Once she had dried her hands she climbed into the empty bathtub and sat there, hugging her knees, her eyes tight shut, rocking backward and forward and waiting for morning, if it ever came.
TWO
Room 309
I
t was less than a half mile to the Griffin House Hotel but John and his passenger had now been sitting at the same intersection for nearly ten minutes, next to a scabby plane tree on which somebody had thumb-tacked a flyer for a missing black-and-white cat.
‘Maybe you want to walk,' John suggested, looking at the woman in his rear-view mirror. ‘I can bring your bags along as soon as this traffic gets moving.'
‘In
these
shoes?' the woman retorted.
John hadn't noticed the woman's shoes when he had picked her up at the airport, but judging by the rest of what she was wearing, he had a pretty good idea what they must be like. Although it was a gloomy October afternoon, with winter just around the corner, her eyes were hidden behind enormous beetle-like sunglasses with sparkly diamanté frames. She wore a short leopard-print jacket with a high furry collar, on top of a tight purple satin dress with a cleavage that probably would have sent back multiple echoes if you had shouted down it. She smelled very strongly of Boss Intense. Since he had started driving taxis, John had become something of a connoisseur of women's perfumes, especially industrial-strength women's perfumes like this one.
‘OK, it was only a thought,' John told her. He looked up at his rear-view mirror again. ‘First time in Cleveland?' he asked her.
‘Oh, no
way
,' she told him. ‘I was born and raised in Brunswick. A fully-fledged graduate of B-wick High. My sister still lives in Shaker Heights.'
‘Hey, that's a nice district, Shaker Heights.'
BOOK: The Ninth Nightmare
4.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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