By Rex Clark
Copyright 2017 Rex Clark
Other titles by Rex Clark:
The Horror From Beyond the Outhouse
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
The Guest in 519
“And here we are at our last stop of the evening,” said the man in the long black coat as he gestured to the hotel in front of them. “Our final destination, if I might throw that joke into the mix.”
There were thirteen of them, not counting the guide who had turned his back to the rundown hotel in order to face the group.
“Behind me is the Sunny Brook Hotel. Doesn’t look like much anymore, does it?” He spared the old building a quick glance. “At one time, this was the place to be here in town, before the chain hotels set up shop on the roads in, to catch the tourists early. Needless to say, it’s seen better days.”
The guide paused with a thoughtful look, then threw his arms wide with a theatrical shrug. “But then, I said it anyway, didn’t I? Go figure,” he said, letting a rueful smile play at his lips. The joke used to get laughs, when the crowds had come to be entertained, and he didn’t like to let it go; it was one of his favorites, even if it was a little worn at the edges.
The shutterbugs in the group raised their cameras and began snapping pictures of the hotel’s crumbling gray exterior and shattered windows. The guide didn’t turn away from the strobing flashes of the cameras; he’d been doing this four or five nights a week for the better part of a decade. The flashes had long since ceased to be blinding.
He gave them half a minute to take pictures before he started his story. “If you’ll look at the third floor, the next to the last room on the right,” he said, pointing to the rust-pocked railing of the balcony and the darkness behind the broken door that opened onto it, “I’m going to tell you about a young couple whose wedding night took a tragic turn for the worse.”
“Another one?” one of the college kids at the back of the group muttered with a smirk. The girl hanging onto his arm sputtered a tipsy giggle, while the other couple that was with them gave a predictably mixed reaction: he snorted laughter at his friend’s rudeness, while she rolled her eyes and tried to inch away from the others. She’d been the only one of the party who had shown an interest in the tour from the get-go; the guide suspected it had something to do with her being the only one of them who was sober. He guessed there had been some moonshine sampling earlier which she hadn’t participated in.
The guide was used to rudeness in general; he’d been doing this long enough to not get ruffled by it, and on most nights, would have just let the comment ride. He was a firm believer in letting assholes sort themselves out by shooting their mouths off. But this bunch had been a pain in his ass all night, and he had reached the point where enough was certainly too much
“Yes indeed, Mister Tedesco,” the guide replied with the most genuine fake smile he could muster. “Another one. Because, as we all know, alcohol and young love are the perfect recipe for ruining peoples’ evenings, amIright?”
He looked to the rest of the group for support, mugging like a game show host, and was not disappointed to see some nods and pointed glances at the drunks. “Damn straight,” an older gentleman near the back of the group said; he’d had the displeasure to end up beside the kids at almost every stop, and was clearly even more fed up with them than the guide was. The sober girl in the party had taken another step away from them and was giving them the same look that the rest of the group was.
Tedesco snorted but kept silent, cowed for the moment by the glares from the people around him. His face slackened back into the expression of bored disinterest that had decorated it all night.
The guide gave it a few more seconds to sink in before continuing. “Now, with Mister Tedesco’s kind permission, we’ll continue.” He caught the shrug-and-snort out of the corner of his eye, but decided to let it drop; he had gotten his point across.
“All right. Now, back in the day, the Sunny Brook made a name for itself as a popular destination for wedding receptions. They had two large meeting halls and a top-notch catering staff, so they were able to accommodate just about any size party you could think of. Sometimes, the actual wedding was held here; more often, the couple would tie the night at the wedding chapel up the street, then everyone would congregate here for the after party.
“On this particular occasion, both bride and groom came from large, and from all accounts, quite boisterous families. She was vivacious, outgoing, and charming to a fault, while he was apparently the black sheep: quiet, bookish, not really one for social gatherings. He liked to keep to the background, while she took center stage. They were so opposite, these kids, that balanced each other perfectly.
“And, most importantly, they were madly in love with each other. They dated through high school, on into college, where he graduated summa cum laude, and she was in the top ten percent, guaranteed jobs the minute they walked off campus. His graduation speech consisted of two things: thanking everyone who had been there to help him get through school, and proposing to the love of his life.”
The guide paused for a handful of seconds, waiting for the ooh’s and aah’s that usually accompanied such a sappy pronouncement, but caught only a muffled gagging sound and a tipsy giggle from the kids in the back. He let this one slide; he suddenly felt too tired to pursue it.
“Six months later,” he picked up again, “they tied the night right here, in the West Hall, and went straight from wedding to reception with quite the mighty roar.
“It was a pretty happening shindig, as the story goes; both families went in with deep pockets to pay for food and booze, and the party ran well into the night, with the maintenance guys carting some of the drunks up to their rooms in wheel barrows when the time came to close it down and clean up.
“Somewhere after midnight, but still well before things started winding down, the young couple announced they were going up to their room. They managed to slur out some heartfelt thank-you’s and a couple of quick, and probably not very comprehensible toasts before departing in a flurry of catcalls and well-wishes.
“Now on their way up from the hall, the young lady realized that she was in need of a pitstop, and that she probably couldn’t hold it until she got to the room. So, she stopped on the next floor up, which was the lobby, and made her way to the ladies’ room, while her new husband went on up to their room to get ready for their ‘special night’.”
He could see from the looks on some of the faces in the group that people were guessing where this was going, but they were still going along for the ride, and that was alright with the guide; sometimes it was okay to let them think they had it worked out before the end of the story.
“I’ve heard different accounts on how long she was actually in the lobby bathroom, but the guy who was working the desk that night swears that it was a solid forty-five minutes before she stumbled back out into the lobby, where she tried to pull herself upright and look presentable, and managed to snap one of the straps on her wedding dress in the process.
“She made her way across the lobby to the desk, which she used as a prop to keep herself from falling over, and told the night audit that she was staying in room such-and-such, and that she was headed there now, but had discovered that she had left her key in the room, and could he give her another one, please? She didn’t want to knock and have her new husband come to the door, because she was certain that he was ‘waiting’ for her, if you catch my drift, and she wasn’t about to let him down.
“Well, the audit gave her a look, but he didn’t say anything to her; he just handed her another key to the room and wished her good night. He said she blew him a kiss as she staggered away from the desk and got on the elevator, and the last thing he heard as the doors closed was her singing ‘Here Comes the Bride’ in fluent Drunkenese.
“Now, when she got off the elevator, she made it down the hall and to the room without causing much of a disturbance, and let herself in quietly. The disturbance didn’t really begin for another ten minutes, when she apparently woke up the entire floor with her enthusiastic consummation of her wedding night. By all accounts, she was heard in the lobby two floors down, where some of the less inebriated wedding guests gave each other some knowing winks as they made their way upstairs.”
The guide said this last with a wink of his own. While he was still professional enough to not let things get too risqué, there were some nights that he was glad that there weren’t any children present; he hated having to tame it down any further than he needed to.
“Now, after a couple of hours of expressive and carefree ecstacy, our young bride finally got her fill of marital bliss and passed out, much to the relief of the hotel’s other occupants.”
Now that he was closing in on the end of the story, the guide felt a lump rising in his throat. It was the same every night, even after all the years that he had been leading these tours, and as always, he turned to face the dilapidated building to cover the wave of emotion.
“A few hours later, though, our young lady woke with the sun shining into face. Groggy, hungover, she still managed a smile and turned to her new husband to wake him with a kiss.
“You can imagine her surprise, though, when she discovered that the man she was looking at was not the same man she had married the day before…”
The guide paused a beat, waiting for a reaction from the group, and saw with no surprise that there wouldn’t be one. Typical, he thought, but shrugged it away and continued.
“She managed to get herself out of bed without waking the man up, got her clothes together, got as dressed as she could under the circumstances, and slipped out of the room without making a sound.
“Once she was in the hallway, she looked around to get her bearings, and discovered that she had ended up in the room right beside the one she was supposed to be in.
“She had been right the night before when she told the night audit that she had left her key in her room; she didn’t have any way to get in on her own. She decided she was just going to knock and wake her husband up, and tell him that she had passed out in the bathroom last night.
“But, as she reached to knock, she saw that it was cracked, just a bit; enough that it hadn’t locked, and could be pushed open easily. She let herself in, then closed the door as quietly as she could, grimacing a little as the latch snicked shut.
“Then she turned around to tiptoe to bed, and found herself looking straight into her husband’s eyes.
Again, he turned to look at the crumbling balcony he’d pointed out earlier, just long enough to cover the fact that he had choked up once more.
“He’d taken the chair from the room’s desk and moved it around so that it was facing the door. He looked like he had been sitting thee all night, just waiting for his bride to come in.
“The bride started to say something, anything, to explain where she had been, when the young man reached behind himself and pulled out a revolver that he’d been hiding.
“Well, the bride stammered and tried to form some kind of coherent sentence, but her new husband cut her off. ‘I love you. I hope you enjoyed your wedding night,’ he said.
“He raised the gun, put the barrel against his own head, and pulled the trigger,” the guide finished, miming the action with his fingers as he spoke.
Again, he paused, expecting some sort of reaction from that, but got nothing more than blank stares. He lowered his hand with a slightly sour look.
“The locals say that at night, if you’re walking by the Stony Brook, sometimes you can see a young man standing in the doorway of the balcony, looking out at the world with a heart-shattered expression on his face; a young groom searching for the bride that spent her wedding night in somebody else’s bed.”
The guide took a breath and let it out in a sigh. He gave the group another thirty seconds to take pictures of the hotel room he had pointed out to them earlier; there was always renewed interest when he mentioned the “sometimes you can see a young man” bit. Then, he threw his hands wide and wrapped up the evening with his usual schtick:
“Guys, that is officially our tour for the evening. I hope you all enjoyed yourselves, and in case you were wondering, yes, it is completely acceptable and very deeply appreciated to tip the tour guide.
“Bigger deal to me, though, being a smaller company, word-of-mouth advertisement is the best advertisement. So again, I’ll mention the Facebook page, Solace Springs Spirit Walk; like it, and share your pictures with us. Better still, share your stories; I like hearing from you guys too! I could do this all night, you’d just be handing the pipe to the crackhead. Share your experiences too.
“And when you get back to your hotel rooms or cabins, or wherever you’re staying, tell the desk clerk, tell the maid, tell the janitor. When you get home, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your dog before you go out and bury it: ‘We went out with Jeff the other night, man, we had a blast! Check it out!’ And if you didn’t have fun… don’t say a word to anyone. And if you didn’t have fun, my name isn’t Jeff; it’s Vance.”
He said this last with a little wink, and got the usual little chuckle. He then gave the group directions back to the lot where they had started out, and bid them all good night.
The group began to break up then, its individual components milling around, talking to each other, comparing pictures. A couple of people walked up to the guide and thanked him, slipping bills into his hand as they shook. He watched them as they left, then groaned to himself as the college kids approached him. Tedesco was smirking again, and the girl with him was leaning heavily against him. The aroma of alcohol grew noticeable as she got closer.
“Don’t tell me you actually believe any of this bullshit,” Tedesco blurted out to the guide when he was in front of him. “Seriously, this was a goddamn waste of time.”
Behind him, the other girl had closed her eyes with an embarrassed grimace and was trying to put some distance between herself and the frat boy she had come with. The guide doubted they would be a couple for much longer, if they even were to begin with.
“Matter of fact, I do believe it,” the guide replied. His voice was steady and surface-pleasant, hiding the layer of anger beneath it. “I knew a couple of the people that I talked about tonight. And as for the rest, their families have been living here for generations, and their stories are well-known around here. Ask anyone. Anything I might not have seen for myself, has been seen by at least ten other people, nine of whom you could count on to be honest about it. You need to remember, every last one of the people I talked about tonight were once living, breathing people, just like you and me. We don’t make this stuff up.”
Tedesco shook his head, his smirk never leaving his face. “Bullshit,” he replied. “Ain’t no such thing as ghosts.”
“So, since you don’t believe in something, that means it doesn’t exist at all? Despite something witnessed by dozens of people, it doesn’t really exist, simply because you say it doesn’t?”
Tedesco’s eyes narrowed as he tried to work that out, but his friend beat him to it.
“Well, yeah,” the other frat boy scoffed. “I’ve never seen a ghost before. Ain’t no one walking around my room and yankin’ down my covers. And if they did, they better be naked and ready to get fucked!”
“That’s what I’m sayin’!” Tedesco replied, and the two fist-bumped each other. The drunk girl giggled and nipped Tedesco on the neck.
“I could use a little spirit in me,” she slurred with a grin, and Tedesco pulled her close, pressing his lips to hers. The other frat boy reached for his date, but she had managed to step away from him and was talking to the guide.
“I’m so sorry for this bunch,” she said in a low voice as she slipped a twenty into the guide’s hand. “I enjoyed it, at least.”
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for, Miss Teague,” the guide replied, hoping he got her name right.
“Pam,” she said.
“Thank you,” she replied and turned to go. The frat boy reached out to take her arm, but she stayed out of reach as they walked away. Tedesco and his date, though, were still joined at the mouth, and the guide found himself hoping that they would trip and break some teeth.
He spared a glance at the bills in his hand, saw that it would have been a slow night had he not gotten the apology tip from the young lady, and shoved the bills into his pocket with a sigh.
The group had pretty much broken up by now; most of the people had gone, but there were still a couple sharing pictures on their cameras. They chatted in low voices, and the guide waited patiently until they were finished. At last, they departed too, with a few more hastily snapped pictures.
Once he was alone, the guide pulled the tips out of his pocket to actually count it, found it was a twenty-eight dollar night, and, folding it neatly, stuck it back in his pocket with a shrug. Better than a kick in the ass, he thought.
The evening air took on a sharp chill, and a light mist rose from the ground, hiding the guide’s feet, followed quickly by his legs as it grew thicker. He flipped up his coat collar against the cool air, and stuffed his hands in his pockets while staring up at the empty balcony of the decaying hotel.
“Was she here?”
The newcomer’s voice came from the guide right. It was soft, covering a layer of heartache and hopeful curiosity.
The guide didn’t take his gaze off the balcony when he replied.
“You know better than that, Eric. She’s long gone; that was years ago. She’s not going to wait around here, especially after everything that happened.”
The man sighed.
“I know. But it never hurts to ask.”
The guide turned away from the hotel and looked at the man. Also long gone was the time when the sight of the man’s tear-streaked, pallid face and the ragged hole in the side of his head frightened him. He gave the newcomer a tired smile.
“You don’t fool me, Eric. It always hurts to ask. Anyone who has loved and lost can tell you, it always hurts to ask.”
The corners of Eric’s mouth drew up a little as he coughed out a single laugh. “I know,” he said. “I know. But I still have to ask it anyway.”
The guide put a friendly hand on the man’s shoulder. “Yeah. I know you do.”
He turned to look at the group of people behind him. It was far larger than the one that had just left; it stretched back until blurred into the rising
Memoriae by Rex Clark / History & Fiction have rating 2.6 out of 5 / Based on37 votes