She’d checked into a hotel off of US Highway 65. It was on the outskirts of somewhere, some town or city, heading into the Ozarks. She hadn’t really paid much attention, just stopped when things started getting wholly unbearable.
“Just one?” The girl at the receptionist’s desk had asked. Just one, as though it were an oddity. The world was filled with people who were Just One, traveling this great canvas all by themselves. But she didn’t belabor the point. She was deeply in need of a shower and a soft pillow to rest her weary mind upon.
“Enjoy your stay, Ms. Ascher.”
She was not married, thirty-four and more single, she thought, than most people.
She took the elevator up to the third floor. Her surroundings were not penetrating her psyche just now. It took every effort to reach her destination down a long, insufficiently lit hallway. But perhaps it wasn’t the lighting, perhaps just her eyes not functioning properly.
She slid in the card, opening the doorway to room 302. She let the heavy door close behind her, plopping her large shoulder-carrying bag onto one of the two double beds. The room was large, beige, and decorated sparsely with a few oversized floral photographs. The beds were unremarkable, with white bedspreads and dark burgundy, cotton bed skirts. The headboards were a dark wood of a cheap variety, as was the rest of the furniture. As hotels went, it was serviceable, and her skin wasn’t crawling.
She pulled her long black hair out of its ponytail and shook it. Even in her thoughts, that sounded, well, snobby. But it wasn’t, actually. It was literal.
Many places felt simply, physically intolerable to her. She laid back on one of the beds and closed her eyes. She was so tired. With distraction, she wondered why they gave her two beds if she was Just One.
She heard the fly buzzing around her, and her eyes flickered open. A chill of recognition traveled up her spine. Evidently, she was not Just One. There was something else here with her.
He must have been only half an hour behind her. He pulled into the Ozark Mountain Motel at eight in the evening. It had been late afternoon when he first became aware that a traveler was passing through the area. He was just leaving his office when the first wave hit him. It felt a bit like a strong current of erratic weather rushing through the landscape, a sudden storm but not a focused one, though evidently only apparent to those that were tuned in. Immediately, he’d cleared his mind, sending out feelers to his network.
“What is it?”
More like someone.
“Are you sure? It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever sensed before.”
Yes, the consensus is it’s a traveler.
“A traveler, you mean a time traveler?”
No, no different, maybe dimensional.
Now that had given him pause. He’d been studying esotericism and parapsychology for nearly twenty-plus years and never encountered a dimensional traveler.
Do you want me to follow it up? There seems to be something wrong there.
“No,” he’d sent out almost involuntarily. “Let me. I’ve never encountered anyone capable of dimensional travel before.”
At this point, it really isn’t clear what she’s capable of.
“She?” He’d asked, surprised, but why exactly he wasn’t clear. He’d just assumed it was a man. Perhaps that was a tinge chauvinistic of him.
Yes, late twenties, early thirties it seems. But the energy is erratic. Be careful.
“Yes,” he’d answered, getting in his car. There was an overnight bag in the trunk already packed in case, well, just in case the unexpected might happen. And this as much as anything, qualified as unexpected.
It seemed like a dream at first. No, that wasn’t true. It seemed like a nightmare, a waking nightmare. Nina woke up in her bed, and she had slipped, though she didn’t know it at the time. Where she found herself was dark, shadowy, but undeniably her bedroom. She remembered the horrible panicked feeling, her heart pounding wildly. She was only twelve. That’s when it had really begun. Her menstrual cycle had just begun the week before, and it brought with it changes, clearly other changes to her psyche. Her mother had told her to be aware, and cognizant of unexpected feelings, but she hadn’t warned her about this.
She’d sat up in the bed, calling out, “Hello,” but no answer. Just an eerie, muffled sort of silence. Silence until, of course, it wasn’t. The movement began quickly, first in the shadowy corners of her room. There were things unseen there, things rustling, scurrying.
Cold fear energized her as she jumped out of her bed and began running through the house. But it wasn’t the house she knew. Everything was different, even the air, cumbersome, as though she were pushing through sand, heavy wet, mushy sand that clung to her skin, weighing her down and impeding movement. “Momma,” she screamed in terror, but the sound of her voice was constricted, stifled in the thick darkness.
With Herculean effort, she moved from room to room, only to find each empty, filled with dense shadows. No one was there, yet it seemed they almost were. She could feel heat in places, the heat of living bodies, the heaviness of form that was simply not quite where it should be. Again, she opened her mouth to scream, but it was as though she was swallowing the murky atmosphere around her, thick in her lungs. There was no doubt in her mind that this would kill her if she remained. She was drowning in this place.
And then, joltingly, she was back, as though she’d just awoken from a bad dream. But it didn’t feel like a dream because that place was still inside her making her sick. She thrashed in her mother’s arms. “Nina,” she whispered in her hair. “It’s all right. You’re back home now,” and it chilled her because it was clear that her mother knew exactly what had happened.
They called it slipping, her mother, her grandmother. But it was a secret, something not spoken of — a curse of sorts, they believed, passed from daughter to daughter. It bypassed the men, her uncles, her brother, being immune and utterly ignorant of it.
“Shouldn’t we tell them?” she’d asked.
“They wouldn’t understand,” was their answer. “They will believe something is wrong with your mind.”
“But I don’t understand. What is that place?”
Her mother had remained silent, and then her grandmother had spoken. “It’s another realm, a dark place, just next to us. A terrible place, I think. That was how my mother described it. There are things there that shouldn’t be seen, shouldn’t be known about. The best thing to do is to learn to keep yourself here and ignore it.”
That was all that was said, their best advice, she surmised. And when she tried to speak of it again, she was stonewalled.
Usually, she was pretty successful in anchoring herself. Unless, well, unless she was too tired or run-down. Over the years, Nina became an expert in monitoring her physical and emotional state. And, of course, relationships were a problem. She started dating in college, Jerry. And then it became a battle, a constant struggle.
A year or so into their relationship, she’d spent the weekend with him and found herself trapped in the middle of the night in the cabin with things, horrible distorted things in those shadows. She’d concluded that there was an emotional component to all of this. The next day she had him take her home, and she broke up with him soon after. She would be Just One. Decidedly, it seemed the only solution.
She opened her eyes and watched the fly bounce off the hotel room’s ceiling. It wasn’t very big. But her instincts told her that it was much more than just a fly. Her eyes opened wider as it circled overhead. Louder, louder, the buzzing grew until she felt it in her fingertips, her hands, beneath her skin, then her blood synchronizing with the irritating pitch.
“Anchor yourself.” She could hear her grandmother’s voice from the past. But it was all too late. She noted as she slipped into the darkness.
He’d just begun to settle in his room on the third floor when he felt it. Something powerful seared through the energy around him. There was a distinct pull and energy loss in his chest as he abruptly sat down on the hotel bed, trying to collect himself. Peter Lochlan breathed in deeply while focusing on centering himself again.
“She’s traveling,” he sent outward.
Yes, an answer. He was never really alone, just a directed thought away from obtaining much-needed guidance. Are you sure you want to handle this?
“Yes,” though he didn’t know why exactly, just something he felt strongly about. “She’s pulling energy.”
It’s not deliberate. It’s done in a sort of panic.
“Do you think she’s dangerous?”
It depends on what you mean by dangerous.
The room pulsated around her. It wasn’t always the same. Where she ended up wasn’t always the same. The hotel room wasn’t couched in shadows but rather distorted, flickering frequencies of light. And she could still hear that buzzing sound that the fly was making, but it was in everything, the walls, the furniture. The carpeted floor all pulsated at that strange reverberating pitch.
She moved rather fluidly back against the bed. This was the manner of movement here, a sort of liquid-like slithering, not unakin to swimming through jelly. She continued to stare at it. It was affixed to the pulsating ceiling. She should have screamed, but it was pointless. And she’d seen worse, much worse in her time. The fly had ballooned in size, its eyes glowing orange, all its eyes on its enormous head, now around the size of a small bear. Its legs fidgeted and pranced, moving around the ceiling as though trying hard to get a grip on its fluctuating surface. No, she was wrong. Perhaps, she should scream. It was zeroing in on her, undeniably positioning itself, wanting something.
She deliberately focused on the door, concentrating. Each place, each space, had its own rules. This place felt connected to it, to that thing. She didn’t want to call it a fly because it wasn’t really. That was only what it looked like in her world.
With will and concentration, she pushed off from the headboard, springing across the room to the door. When her hands made contact, she found the fluctuating wood thick and slimy. Wielding a fist through its unstable surface, then punching through, she pushed herself through the newly created opening, tumbling with significant force.
Again, she focused. Being direct and mindful, she’d learned were the tools of the trade in survival. The hallway was different, completely different, as though she’d passed into a different level. Its ceiling was low and seemed to stretch endlessly, bending and curving out of her sight. Here, all the walls were a flickering, blinding white. She heard it behind her, scrambling, that horrible buzzing sound. The other place had been its domain, but it clearly was coming after her, hunting, predatory.
She took off down the curving hall. But the more she traveled, the more it curved and bent like a confusing sort of maze. She was stupid to have stopped here at this place, at the hotel, but she’d been so tired. This place was complicated, with so many pockets, unseen pockets. It would be easy to get lost.
Directly behind her, she heard it scuttling, that horrible, incessant buzzing noise. She could feel it wanted to rip her to pieces in that pincer-like mouth. And if it did, would she be dead or just trapped somewhere unspeakable? Her calmness was deteriorating into panic. That could be deadly to her. She pushed forward, stumbling along the tight and uneven little walls of the hallway. They went on and on relentlessly, with no place to break out of. And then she turned a sharp, sudden bend, and there was something or rather someone standing there in front of her. Her vision was blurred here, but she clearly made out a form.
Her heart clutched in fear. In all the years she’d been doing this, experiencing these bizarre phenomena, she’d been alone, solitary, except for the ambient creatures. There was no one else. But this form, a person she suspected, reached out toward her, jarringly grabbing her arm in a painful grip.
“Come on,” she heard a voice inside her head and then felt an abrupt yank outward.
Nina sat up in the bed in her hotel room. She touched her face with the palms of her trembling hands ― icy, sweaty, her heart cramping painfully in her chest. She physically jumped when the first knock came at her door and then the second, sharp, unrelenting. She looked around, still in that state of panic. She didn’t see the fly. Perhaps, it had moved on. Then the third knock, just as fierce, reminding her sharply of the present. After that, it stopped, for quite a space, nothing, just silence. If she waited, whoever it was might just leave. But something began to pull at her, something powerful, insistent, drawing her to her feet.
Without thinking, unable to stop, she reached out, opening the door.
A man was standing in the hallway, looking at her intently. “Are you all right?” he asked directly. And he reached out, catching her, as she began to collapse in exhaustion.
Copyright © 2020 by Evelyn Klebert
A hotel for most represents a normal place, a predictable realm of commonality. One might even go as far to say a safe space, the reliable, where nothing particularly unusual is expected to happen. Or is it?
Drop into a collection of romantic paranormal stories where that place of commonality is only the threshold, the jumping off point for extraordinary adventures into the unknown.
In “Too Many Pens,” an artist finds a very routine stay at a hotel slowly transforming into a place of romance and mystery. “Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. Two unique travelers find love and themselves trapped in a French Quarter hotel during an unexpected tropical tempest in “The Storm.” In, “The Armstrong,” two people from different eras try to bridge the gap of time itself in an old historic hotel. “Variables” tells the story of a dimension traveler battling to rescue a man from a devastating fate. And “Hotels in the Time of Covid,” explores a relationship between a news reporter and her spirit guide.
Follow the unpredictable lure of the supernatural in this collection of Hotel Stories.