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“In the absence of light, darkness prevails.” —Unknown
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” —Blaise Pascal “It is a man's own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.” —Buddha
He was a man of importance, both by the way he walked down the street and the way he dressed. And how he acted—when people looked and when they didn’t. But it never mattered if they did. Never. Fierce blue eyes peered out from deep within his sockets. A bright, toothy grin hung on his face like a crooked photograph—both ugly and out of place. Sideburns the color of char, the same as his short hair, shot down from both sides of his top hat, following alongside his pale jaw. The hat, an unorthodox accessory for even this time, had long since outlived its popular peak. It was on Main Street in Steadfast, Maine, which this important man strode down. Steadfast was an isolated little town in Blue Valley—unassuming, quaint, the kind of place that made postcards. Towering mountains, the color of wintery night, encroached upon the feeble town, preventing the light of dawn for several hours in the morning and bringing on night at an inversely fast rate. Were it late autumn or winter, it would seem as though Steadfast were located in Alaska instead, for night nearly consumed the entire day. But, it was summer now; an overcast and cool day it was, and the mountains merely cast a gloomy, massive silhouette over the valley, their bulk obscured by a light fog. This town, with only one means of entrance and escape, was, for the most part, a dead end. A place to turn around in and depart from when one gets lost, in search of a better place to be. But not to him; it was perfect. The middle of—literally—nowhere. It was ideal for his plans, his dreams, his desires. And their lives. From inside their shops and houses, the residents of Steadfast watched the newcomers walk up the street with suspicion and fear—as most residents of small towns do. Few people visited Steadfast, let alone anyone of such corporate regality as these two. And this left the townsfolk to ponder: what were they here for? To buy up all of their land, turn it into some huge multi-resort-centered town? Or, worse yet, to collect taxes? Either option seemed dreadful to the townsfolk of Steadfast. The other man beside this original was of a much duskier complexion, something which the townsfolk had seen little of, as well—the darkest person anybody saw for miles was the well-tanned Old Ted Burke, a farmer of potatoes, corn and naught else. This dark man was also young—barely over twenty—whereas his white companion was easily in his late thirties. This dark man wore a felt bowler hat on top of his shaven head—a hat which matched his lavish gray suit, yet not his massive frame. He had a small, pitch goatee and eyes to match. His large, imposing body far dwarfed his companion, and it was obvious what this man’s job was—after all, very few men would approach someone so large, let alone challenge him, even if the scrawny, pale scarecrow next to him in the top hat cursed them with obscenities. And so, together, they walked up the street, alone. Save for a dog.
It was ragged, starving creature, one that had led a wretched existence. Its ribs were marked by skeletal rings and divots, like fence posts a child could run a stick along for amusement. Short fur, the color of urine, was matted against this thin frame. Muddy, cataract-filtered eyes bulged obscenely out of its head, leaking a pale pus. The dog had relied on begging for food scraps from the people of the town who felt sympathetic—if not piteous—for it. From whom the poor thing came from, no one knew; yet, no one took it in. No one felt the need to care for it. Somewhat because it was such a vagrant thing; mostly because it was so sad to even glance upon. The dog had spent most of its days scurrying amongst the rubbish of the alleys, rooting in the litter for rotten morsels. As a result, it created a great deal of mess—far more than the alley cats and rodents ever did. No one, though, could bear to kill it; to put it out of its misery. In a strange way, it had became a sort of mascot of Steadfast, a town pet, shared link amongst the folk. Perhaps it was even reflective of its people: abandoned, malnourished, weak. When the pale man saw the dog, he hated it. How pathetic! How revolting! How vulgar! How utterly and unequivocally shameful—even in a town such as this! How could any sane man leave such a mess as this unattended to? The dog saw the men and scampered over, whining, bony tail between its bony legs. Food. That was the only thought than ran through its simple, naïve mind. Food. It crouched down, crawling lower and lower as it drew nearer to the pale man, begging. Food. It looked up at him, cloudy eyes large and examining, awaiting its usual morsel. Food. The man looked down at the deplorable mutt, disgusted. The dog whined once—Food!—and that was enough for the man in the top hat. He brought back his polished leather shoe, its toe hard and unforgiving. The shoe came forward, the man turning, aiming for the animal’s side; the dog didn’t know what happened until it was too late. The shoe smashed into the mutt’s ribs, shattering them as a hammer would stemware. A grotesque dent was left in the dog’s side where its frail ribs once made thin rings and divots. The dog stumbled back, whining for mercy, not food, now. Pain exploded all over its side, up its neck, a deep, awful ache blooming into agony. The poor thing still tried to escape, but the man kicked its hip, breaking it with a snap like thin veneer being folded; malnutrition combined with a detrimental life had made the dog’s bones frail, it seemed. The already weak dog barely managed to stay on its three feet as it tried to limp away to prevent further, mortal damage. But it failed miserably. “You’re not getting away from me, you filthy, pathetic BEAST!” the man bellowed, emphasizing the last three words with passionate animosity. The townspeople merely watched or looked away; they knew not to intervene, not to go running out into the street, yelling for it to stop. For, who knew what that large, dark fellow could have under that jacket? Or what federal authority they answered to? The man in the top hat advanced to the other side of the yelping, scrambling creature, considerably faster than the sick dog. He showed no mercy as he booted it again, shattering its other rear leg with the hard toe of his shoe. The dog collapsed, crawling on
its belly with its front paws. As it dragged itself along at a sluggish pace, still it held on to the vain hope of escape—even to get away and die alone somewhere, far from this cruel man and his hard shoes. That hope was trampled after a few feet; the dog lay there on its belly, whining and panting. A lack of food had left it without enough energy to move any further. “My gun,” the pale man panted to his dusky-skinned associate. The pale man’s eyes were colder than ice; colder than the most frigid Winter night above the Arctic Circle. The kind of coldness which sent shivers down a person’s spine just thinking about it. The large, dark man pulled out the revolver—an old gun with a pearl handle. It was a simple gun, made from crude iron and “kicked like a pissed-off mule” (as the gunsmith had informed the pale man when he purchased it in New Orleans). To most, the gun’s pearl handle seemed out of place; an odd adornment of luxury on a weapon better suited for killing pigs. Or dogs. “Here you go, sir,” he said as it exchanged hands. “Thank you,” the pale man replied, smiling. His white teeth glowed in the gloom of the day, almost as if they were illuminated by some malevolent light. He turned, savage blue eyes glowing in their deep sockets as they stared down the barrel of the gun. They looked, just then, like tiny jewels of azure color, hidden within dark caves—caves which contained phantasmagorias of the most hellish variety. The whimpering dog turned its head to find the barrel of the gun staring at it like a single, black, and unblinking eye. The dog knew—the damned thing knew—that it was the end. It tried to crawl again but it was of no use. It didn’t have the energy, nor the muscle, nor the time. Thunder filled the air, reverberating off the towering mountains with a bass drum’s echo, as the dog’s frail skull was smashed inward by an unseen hammer. The poor creature yelped, head whipping back in a morbidly graceful curve, as if it were to howl one last time to the sky above. Red spray spewed out the other side of the dog’s head, staining the dirty street. Then the dog’s head hit the ground, dust pluming around its gaunt features. Blood pooled around the dog’s jowls and bubbled up through a soft, lumpy spot revealed by the broke-open skull. It would beg no more. Smoke poured out of the end of the dark, hot, iron barrel. It did, indeed, kick like a pissed-off mule, the pale man thought in maniacally ill humor. A smile slowly spread over the his face; his eyes glinted with illuminated blue levity. Imitating a cowboy, the pale man twirled the gun around his finger and blew out the smoke from the barrel. Given a Stetson and a set of stirrups, he would have surely cried, “Yee-haw!” “Clean this up,” he said, passing the gun to his associate and moving around the dead dog. He observed his work with an expression of self-criticism across his face, as an artist would his own painting or sculpture. He squatted down beside the mutt’s corpse, grabbed it by its chops, and moved them up and down, open and shut. He squeaked in a high, cartoony voice as he spoke. “Yeah Joe, clean dis up, now! Take care of my mangy hide!” He threw the dead animal’s head to the ground, more filth and blood adding to its matted fur, which was so much like a worn out rug.
The pale man stood up. Joe, who saw nothing unusual in his companion’s obscene behavior, passed him a kerchief. “Thank you, Joe,” the man said, wiping his hands. “Make sure that when you get rid of the thing that no one finds it. It could…implicate our credibility.” “Yes,” Joe replied plainly. It was as if he were listening to the man give a press conference, and not directions as to what to do with an old dog’s cadaver. “Good,” he said, looking at the Municipal Building up the road, “Now, I have a date with the selectmen of this…this wondrous town.” His sarcasm coated his words like heavy cream, yet made them as tasteless to the ear as bleach. “Don’t worry, sir,” Joe said, “I’m sure they’ll be convinced once you speak to them. You can be very…persuasive.” The pale man smiled. “I concur. Now, get this cleaned up.” The man left Joe to take care of the dog and walked up the road. Joe bent down to pick up the dog, replying, “Yessir, JC.”
Money and Rivalry
Jasper Garrison bolted upright in his bed. The dream. It was that damn dream again. What was it, now? Eleven? Eleven times? Jasper turned, hanging his legs over his bedside. He flipped his lamp on his stand on. Pale light illuminated the room, leaving many large, dark, stretching shadows. Jasper, now fifteen, was lanky and lean; neither overweight or particularly muscular. He wore only a pair of gray boxers, leaving his white, hairless torso exposed, looking much like skeleton wrapped in white nylon. It was a stifling night, and his skin was sticky and sweaty, almost as if it were covered in adhesive of some kind. An oscillating fan turned, back and forth, back and forth, on the stand next to the light, spreading air that was only slightly more comfortable than the dead air hanging around him. A copy of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew lay facedown between the light and fan, creased spine up. Jasper ran his hands through his short, black hair. His cool, blue eyes shifted to the clock on his stand. 3:00 AM it reported, red numbers bright like the broken stems of maraschino cherries, background black like oil. 3:00 AM. And it was always 3:00 AM. 3:00 AM eleven goddamn times. He sighed, rubbing his aching eyes with his slick palms. He let his hands drag down his face, feeling his cheeks stretch and burn in the heat. Feeling the beginnings of facial hair on his upper lip and chin and pimples on his cheeks and mouth-corners, feeling sweat—greasy, greasy sweat—dousing his face in a stinging, salty glaze. It felt as if he had just taken a swim in mild acid. He wouldn’t fall asleep again—never did. He had learned this ten times over. He got up, instead, and left his room. His dog, Bo, was asleep in a corner of the room, tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth so he could pant. At least I’m not covered in black fur, Jasper thought, though it gave him no comfort, as he glanced at Bo before he left the room. He walked down the dark hall, feet padding across the inhospitably warm carpet. The air was a damp soup of heat that broiled the body and boiled one’s emotions. Even just after waking up, Jasper all ready felt furious and frustrated with the weather—it was the seventh day, now, of extreme humidity and heat. Had there been anyone in the house—anyone at all: intruder, friend, whoever—Jasper had a feeling that he wouldn’t be on the best of terms with them at the current moment. Even Candy Stevens, warm brown hair flowing down upon her bare breasts, with nothing but her signature plaid miniskirt covering her lower quarters, she beckoning him closer. Alas, even if this fantasy came to reality, Jasper would still have been mildly annoyed, still, by the weather. Yet, apart from Bo, he was the only one in the house. There were no friends, enemies, or girls of divine carnal form visiting this early morning. His grandfather, Dean, was the only father he ever knew. Jasper’s father walked out on his mother, Alicia, when Jasper was born, without so much as a goodbye. He hardly cared to make any sort of contact with his son, even many years later.
Jasper didn’t give a damn now, anyway. The bastard always paid child support, even if he was a few dollars short of the actual amount due, and as long as he didn’t seek him out, Jasper wouldn’t want anything from him. Dean was his father, now; he had been since Jasper was three when they moved in with him. Jasper saw this old man—who smoked fat, fragrant Swisher Sweets cigars, complained about the Yankees constantly beating the Red Sox, and who would have cried when the Sox finally won the World Series—as his real father, not the man who had impregnated his mother one drunken night, and left for the West coast. The foremost of these endearing traits his grandfather possessed had a deathly twist in it: lung cancer—and it was slowly killing him. He and Alicia took turns between the house and the hospital—one watching over an empty home and one over an emptying man. Jasper tried not to think about it much, yet his mother cried a lot. Sometimes she did it front of him on purpose, as if reaching out nonverbally; other times she tried to cry alone. Jasper knew she was crying, though—he always had a feeling for emotional strife. It was as if he sorrow had left an electrical charge in the air, and Jasper was a lightning rod for it. He remembered from Basic Science that electrons had a negative charge, and proton were positively charged, so the two were attracted. He saw it like that: he was a proton, and all the billions of tiny electrons in the world seemed to find—to cling to—him. Not just his mother, but the people of the town. The clerk at the store, who was worried that her husband would find out that she was screwing the manager; the sheriff, who was embarrassed of his openly gay son; the mailman, who was depressed because he had no one to come home to but his old, blind cat. Sometimes he considered suicide, and it was these days that Jasper noticed him the most. But, unlike his mother, Jasper never cried. If there was anything he learned from his grandfather, it was to be strong. To persevere. After all, that’s what being a Sox fan’s all about. Jasper entered the dark living room. It was silent, as if Jasper had entered a vacuum. Dark silhouettes filled the room, obscure furnishings made of night. The dense air smelled faintly of cigar smoke and dog hair. Dim, yellowish light came from the kitchen next to the living room via an open archway. It revealed a light-blue, wall-to-wall carpet stretching out into the dark living room. Jasper entered the kitchen. The scuffed, torn linoleum in the pattern of blue and white tiles was somewhat cooler beneath his feet, but not by much. Cupboards made with faux wood adorned the kitchen, above and below an off-white sideboard—originally white when first purchased. The source of the weak light was a single light bulb over the sink. A microwave down the countertop from the sink had a green readout that read: 3:02; an electric stove to Jasper’s right disagreed, arguing in the same green that it was still 3:00. To Jasper’s immediate left was the fridge—a new (if ‘barely used’ or ‘secondhand’ were synonyms for ‘new’) double-door that his mother had been very proud of. It was the result of a pay raise she had recently received as secretary for Smith and Sons Trucking—an extra reward for her late nights and long weekends.
Jasper turned to the massive, humming machine, opening the fridge-side door and pulling out a partial two-liter of Mountain Dew. He unscrewed the cap with a half-hearted ‘hiss’ and drank some of it. It had gone flat, and was like antifreeze in appearance—which, he had heard, was sweet, so this probably wasn’t far from the truth, tastewise. When he brought the bottle back down, he dropped it, cool, flat soda spilling all over the floor. Across the room from him stood Dean. He wore his signature plaid shirt, blue Boston Red Sox cap, and old, faded jeans. “Gra-Grandpa,” Jasper stuttered out, surprised, “I thought you were supposed to be at the hospital.” “I just got out,” Grandpa Dean said. He smiled. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Something about the way Grandpa Dean said it, Jasper guessed. And there was a…a glow; an aura that seemed to illuminate him. A backlighting to his image. Jasper knew it a moment later—like he knew how the mailman wanted to kill himself—and his gut clenched up. His muscles refused to obey him, he shuddered and shook, painful cramps aching in his stomach. He doubled over, and a shot-put ball became logged in his throat, making breathing difficult. A hot tear streamed down his cheek, followed by a choked gasp. He face cramped, features distorted. “You’re…you’re…you’re—” Jasper tried and tried again, voice cracking and skipping like some busted disc. He couldn’t manage the word “dead.” Jasper began to sob uncontrollably, feeling both remorseful and ashamed; ashamed that he was blubbering in front a man whom he greatly admired. It was a bitter cocktail he hoped he would never have to down again. “Jaspah Christopha Garrison,” Grandpa Dean said, Maine accent thick, “What’s the mattah with you?” “What’s the matter with me?” Jasper said, snapping upwards in shock, anger, rage. He walked forward a step, his blue eyes tinged with brilliant red, “You’re dead! That’s the fucking matter with me! You’re dead and I’m never going to see you again!” Jasper buried his sweltering face into his broiling hands, his burning palms. Numbly, as if some of his nerves had been severed, he felt his knees hit the cool linoleum, splashing in the soda. Grandpa Dean walked forward, unseen to Jasper’s hidden eyes. “Don’t cry,” Grandpa Dean said, cooed, putting a hand on Jasper’s bare shoulder. It felt just as warm and rough and real to Jasper as if it were Grandpa Dean’s actual hand—yet, he knew, it was not. Jasper looked up, reluctant at first, tears streaming from his red, shiny face. “You’ll see me again, Boy. I’m not gone forevah.” “Really?” Jasper spluttered. He sounded like a little child who had found out, smashing a vase, that his father wasn’t going to kill him, after all. And he hated himself for it. Tears blurred Jasper’s vision, making Grandpa Dean hard to see at times. But Dean’s aura was still there, always clear, always visible to him. The lump in his throat was a large as ever, and metallically hard, indestructible throughout the visitation. “Yes,” Grandpa Dean said and smiled. “But before I go right now, there’s somethin ya need to know.”
“What?” Jasper asked, wiping his eyes. He took in a deep, rattling breath, but that ball of steel was still lodged in his throat, making his breath short. “That ya need to prepare yourself,” Grandpa Dean said, voice now solemn, “There are things out there, Boy…dark things that make up nightmares. And, one day, they’ll find ya. Ya need to be ready. Ya must protect yourself.” “What are you taking about, Grandpa? Protect myself from what?” Again, that childish voice. And, again, that self-hatred. “I can’t explain; I’ve got to go, now,” Grandpa Dean said, and then smiled. “I love ya, Boy.” “Love you too, Gramp,” Jasper said, rising. His voice cracked. His face stung with sweat and tears, salt and vinegar. His eyes ached, like he just punched himself in the retinas. He was wearing a pair of boxers; nothing else. Hardly the goodbye Jasper had in his mind. Jasper hugged the only father he had ever known. How funny it was—Jasper had always thought that ghosts were cold. Yet, here was Grandpa Dean, just as if he were really there. And, it seemed no different to Jasper than if Dean had survived his bout with cancer, and that he really had been discharged from the hospital, deemed “healthier than before.” How sadly ironic it was, indeed. When they let go of one another, Grandpa Dean looked into Jasper’s eyes, their shared shade of blue fused in that moment. Dean put his burly, carpenter’s hand on his arms, and said, “Now, if ya evah need me, Boy, just call. I’ll be there.” Jasper awoke upon the kitchen floor, air still a few degrees below the record high in Hell, and all ready five times the record humidity. Once again, the microwave and the stove argued the time: one claimed it was 4:16, the other 4:14. Jasper leaned up, and rubbed the back of his sore head. He looked around and saw that he had been lying in a pale green pool of Mountain Dew—which did resemble antifreeze very much, now that Jasper looked at it. He managed to get up off the slippery floor and looked in the corner of the room where he had seen Grandpa Dean. A table—seated for three, but that now would be only occupied by two—and a hutch with a small array of mismatched dishes stood there. And one other thing. A lighter. Jasper walked over, picked it up, rolling it around in his hands. D.O.G. had been engraved into one side. Dean Oliver Garrison. Dog, too, now that he looked at it; and this made him think of JC. He pushed away the thought, not wanting to reflect on a nightmare after going through another. He looked out the window next to the hutch, which looked out upon all that they owned: a small plot of dying grass in front of the turnpike. Jasper yanked a ream of paper towels from the roll on the sideboard and lazily tossed them onto the pool of flat soda. Jasper entered the cramped bathroom—the only one in the double-wide. He flipped on the switch next to the sink. Suddenly, a red-eyed teenage boy with messy, short hair and pale frame looked back at him—a horror-show, to Jasper. His boxers were dark
and damp on one side, like he had pissed himself miraculously through his own hip. Dark rings had just begun to form beneath his eyes. He looked tired. That’s when he got scared. That’s when he started to see correlations—between JC and himself. Blue eyes, for one. “No,” he said to himself, “No, let’s not go down that path.” Speaking to yourself, said a cynical, mocking, jester-voice, Real sane, buddy. I’m sure nice big men in the white jackets’ll believe you when you tell them you’re not crazy. Then they’ll put you in the comfy, padded van, and take you away to the Happy Hotel. Jasper rubbed his temples, glaring at his reflection. His eyes all ready seemed as though they were taking up residence in more cavernous sockets, he saw. And his black hair was the right shade. Jasper’s throat ran dry as he made the last connection. He turned on the hot water faucet and let it run, steam rising up. When it clouded up the mirror—and turned the bathroom into an unbearable sauna—Jasper shut off the sink. His raving mind, possessed by what it saw as a vital clue to his future, ignore the roasting heat of the bathroom. Shakily, as if he expected something to reach out from the mirror and consume him, he wrote, JASPER CHRISTOPHER. And then, below it, JC. A shiver crawled down his back, like scuttling, flesh-eating beetles, making him feel cold even though it was muggy and he had just filled the bathroom with hot steam. A screen door slammed—Jasper looked away from the mirror, his focus lost. “Ja-Jasper?” called out a woman’s light voice a few heart-thundering moments later. “You…you up?” Jasper took the pale pink towel that hung above the toilet behind him and wiped the mirror off frantically. He barely had to move to reach the towel—the toilet’s cold bowl nearly touched Jasper’s calves. Jasper then tossed the towel into the overflowing white hamper between the toilet and baby-blue shower-tub combo. Currently, a stained yellow shower curtain hid the inside of the tub. Jasper walked out into the hall and saw his mother. Alice Garrison wore a brown shirt she managed to find at the Salvation Army that didn’t display a cartoon character or tobacco product. Her mousy hair was untidy, ponytail half-undone. She was a corpulent woman with warm brown eyes—the color of chocolate, a favorite of hers. Even in the dimness of the early morning, it was oblivious she had been crying. They stood there, staring at each other. Then Jasper broke into a run and embraced his mother. They both cried—she more than him. Words needn’t be said. Both knew that other did. Dean was gone. As a messiah would take a divine ordinance from the Almighty, so Jasper took Dean’s message. Endless days were spent, it seemed, in the musty local library; sometimes with his only friend, Vic Sterling. Together they would scour the shelves for any and all books related, in whatever way, to the supernatural. Fiction or nonfiction, history or fable, he searched them all twice and thrice over. To his dismay, all the books which held more information than a dictionary’s definition were, it appeared, sensationalized half-truths. They all had some great New
Age theology driving them—e.g., “the Great Spirit oversees all those who enter the Afterlife, but those who choose to stay behind, whether it is for vengeance, unfinished business, or simply denial, may linger at the cusp of eternity.” Then there was the Dark One, who “has many minions crawling about the Earth, seeking out innocent souls to destroy or consume totally.” And so on it would go, never going into great detail, but always affirming that there was and Afterlife, there was a Higher and an Evil Power. Always disguising itself as fact, while all it was was a tasteless fusion of personal theologies and opinion. Jasper didn’t believe it. Even after rereading all the books to grasp the dizzying silliness of it all, he couldn’t get it. There never was a clear explanation of what was out there—and, therefore, what he should be preparing himself for. A demon, for example, was only listed as a “dark entity” or “servant of the Devil.” Never did any book actually explain what it was, where it was, what weakens or kills it. And then there were the mediums—veritable metro stations for the dead into the living realm. Never was it elaborated upon what made one, nor was the possibility of hoaxes explored, even mentioned. Only the blind faith in these seers truth was to be practiced. Jasper began asking himself what kind of people read this stuff and actually swallowed it. And he began to feel like a jackass as it dawned upon him that the majority of the supernatural community surely believed it all. Finding himself disgusted, Jasper would often spend long nights in bed, stewing over the pseudoscience and exaggeration of the books. Often times he would look back upon hi own life, pluck moments out of his memory as scientists pluck specimens from the wild, placing them under bright lights, high-powered microscopes, and scrutinizing eyes. One particular memory would often float to the surface of his memory, bobbing up and down there, awaiting further inspection. It had been a rainy day. Jasper and Alicia were packing, Alicia mostly doing the work. Jasper, like all kids of his budding age, was of little use when it came to organizing boxes, or anything else besides making food messes or loud noises. The house they were in was drafty, sending icy phantom breezes throughout the rooms, even on warm days. The floral wallpaper in Alicia’s bedroom—where they sat going through the boxes, packing new ones—had begun to peel, turning a sickly shade of spoiled lemon. The uneven floor creaked and squealed as they shifted about, walking between rooms in search of worthy belongings. As they sorted through a box of keepsakes and nostalgia, Jasper found a locket. Made of gold, it had a long, deep scratch going diagonally across its back. He pried it open with his small fingers and looked at the black and white photo of a woman with dark hair and a sleek face. Her face was cheery, full of energy, a person whose charisma leaked through the photo, across time and space, warming the observer’s heart. “Mommy,” Jasper said, his small voice barely over a whisper, “Why’s Grammy Eva’s picture in Grandpa Dean’s necklace?” For a moment, Alicia stared at her son, her then thin features stressed with concern. Had she ever told him about her mother? Or the locket—a gift from her father after her death?
“Jasper, honey, how did you know that’s Grammy Eva?” Alicia said, concern streaking her round face. She had yet to put on some weight after Philip left her. “Hmmm?” Jasper said, as though he hadn’t even known what he had just said, or the implications it had brought. He was transfixed by the locket. “I said,” Alicia said, her throat dry, “‘How did you know that was Grammy Eva?’” “I don’t know, Mommy,” Jasper said, eyes suddenly, disturbingly, shooting up at her. Philip’s eyes. Cold blue eyes. “I just knew.” Jasper remembered whole slew of other examples of his ability throughout his young life—examples he labeled “episodes,” as if they were epileptic fits of some classification, easily controlled by a diurnal medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, had he ever scheduled a meeting with one. They were just engraved into his memory like epitaphs, specific checkpoints his mind had recorded the progress to and from. The outcomes of baseball games, including scores. How stories would pan out, even halfway through with no clues to allude towards an ending. And, especially, where others had left things—even those he had never even seen before. When he and Vic were eight, Vic lost his book of ghost stories. 13 Spooky Stories, it had been called, or something close to that. Jasper had never read it—never even heard about it before. Yet Jasper knew where it was: in the ancient apple tree a few hundred yards from Vic’s back door. Vic was surprised to find the tattered paperback in a knothole. How it had got there, years later Jasper was still unsure. The last major episode before the conversation with Dean was when Jasper was twelve. His dog, Kip, had died—hit by a relentless tractor-trailer after the leash had slipped from his grip. Living next to the Turnpike, obviously, had its disadvantages. Had Kip been human—which he had been very much in Jasper’s young mind— the crime would’ve been called a ‘hit-and-run.’ Yet no such accusation could be placed over the case of a simple, and quite honestly, extrinsically worthless mutt. Like any other kid who had lost his beloved pet, Jasper was upset. He cried onand-off for hours, all the while trying to stop himself, trying to tell himself he was being a girl. Yet, just when he thought he was stable again, just when he thought he had stopped, another happy memory would resurface and he would burst into another fit of sobs. Another electron added on, as it were. The last time Jasper wept was while he tried to drift off into some kind of sleep— though any meaningful rest was a waste of effort and time—the night after Kip’s ceremonial burial in the backyard. However, the hot tears pouring from his eyes protested the idea of sleep, loathed, despised it. And, as he lay there on his side in the dark, he felt something heavy sit on the bed. No, “sit” wasn’t the word; land was much better, as if it was some immensely heavy piece of paper that had floated down from above. Jasper—half-scared, halfcurious—turned and looked at what was in the bed with him. Sitting there, panting lightly and totally intact (unlike how he had been found after the truck motored on to Bangor), was Kip. His bushy tail wagged.
“K-Kip?” Jasper said, disbelieving. Kip sat there patiently, as if waiting to be pat. Jasper reached out with a wary hand and stroked the dog’s shiny fur. Just as it would be with Grandpa Dean years later, Kip was just as warm and real as if he had never been ran down, innards mashed into the hot top like pesto to a cracker. Jasper half-laid there in awe; Kip had came back. Then, as suddenly as he had been there, Kip faded away, leaving Jasper to pet the cool, empty air. He stopped crying.
Jasper graduated from Carlton High School not at the top of his class, but still with a 94 average. His friend Vic graduated, and left it at that. Jasper moved on to Norton University of Innovative Technologies, where he took the new courses in Paranormal Investigation and Parapsychology—hoping, if a bit vainly, that they wouldn’t be anything like the New Age books he had endured in high school. And, still hoping that what he was to protect himself from was of supernatural, not human, nature. Vic, as far as Jasper knew, moved away to Boston and started up a supernatural consultant agency, skipping the college course. Jasper received one letter from him—stating that he was going to get married and wanted Jasper to be the best man. Jasper replied, stating that he would, but never was an answer sent back. This concerned him for a week or so, until he assumed that the letter got lost in the mail. He tried two more times to contact Vic, but Vic either never got the letters, or had simply fallen off the face of the earth. Fortunately, the courses Jasper took weren’t like the numerous, pseudoscientific books he had read. He, in fact, enjoyed the courses for the most part—they were logical, scientific, meticulous; not a steaming load of pious bull. Despite his delight in the course, however, there were still problems. Namely, a young woman by the name of Eliza Chapman. They had gathered in the classroom on the first day to both ask questions and to discover if they were suited for this particular course. Freshman, seething with excitement, clogged the entrance into the lecture hall. A low, dull clamor of cluttered speech drowned out all other sounds; as a result of the dense populous, one couldn’t see the lecture hall’s interior from the entrance. Even if someone were to be speaking at the bottom of the hall, they would go unheard. Once he forced his way through the herd, Jasper was able to take in the hall. It reminded him of the Colosseum: rows of desks lined the edge of the cone-shape interior, which narrowed as he descended the steps. Lights hung higher and higher above him, illuminating the center semicircle, where a whiteboard and a desk had been set up. Behind the whiteboard, a door stood. Jasper sat down near the front of the hall, next to a man with wiry, apricot hair and mustache. He sat at a desk, absent-mindedly doodling on his Steno, the seats around
him in all directions vacant, not just the horizontals. He wore glasses with thick, black frames, magnifying his brown eyes immensely. He wore a blue-striped dress shirt and jeans. He looked over at Jasper. “Nigel Harrison,” he said, extending a hand for Jasper to shake. He took it; it felt cool and slightly damp. “Jasper Garrison.” Unknown to Jasper at the time, he was meeting his roommate. “Well, aren’t we a poet,” Nigel said, smiling. His teeth were off-white—almost a very pale yellow. At least they’re not bleached, Jasper thought, and the man named JC flashed before his eyes. The rest of reality had fallen out; there was only Jasper, JC, a dead mutt, and some tiny town somewhere. (Treadpast? Medfast?) Jasper smiled back at Nigel and gave a small, polite chuckle, despite the joke’s utter flatness. “So, where y’ from?” Nigel said. He wasn’t looking at Jasper anymore; someone further down the hall beckoned his attention. “Carlton,” Jasper said, “It’s a small town in Maine. And you?” “Austin,” Nigel said, giving a quick glance at Jasper, “And, I’m liberal—imagine that?” Jasper nodded, and followed Nigel’s eyes to the back of a woman’s head. Blonde hair poured down her back in undulating, golden waves. She sat alone in the front row of the lecture hall, bent over what appeared to be a sketch pad. Nigel gave a faint, dreamy sigh. “Why don’t you go talk to her?” Jasper said. Nigel looked alarmed, as if asked to attack a bear with a BB gun, or told that his pants were missing, or both. “Wha—” Nigel said, then flushed, “Oh, well, yes, um, you see, that’s the thing…” He swallowed. “I’ve never, um, been, uh, how do you say…smooth, with the ladies.” Jasper raised an eyebrow. “You’re scared, aren’t you?” Jasper said a moment later, a smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. “Uh, yes,” Nigel said sheepishly. “So, let me get this straight,” Jasper said, shifting in his chair to use his hands to emphasize his point. “You are going to school to learn how to—basically—go into old, haunted buildings, at midnight, to find things which scare most people shitless—and then try to talk to make contact with them? But you’re too scared to talk to a girl? Have I got this straight?” “Yup,” Nigel said, as if it were a plain, well-know fact. The sky’s blue. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I can’t talk to girls. Jasper smiled and let out a small, short laugh. “All right—just you wait here,” Jasper said, rising and walking down the stairs. Nigel’s eyes flashed to Jasper and watched him descend the steps, walk over to the girl, and sit in the seat next to her. Nigel began to panic, wondering what he was going to do. Talk to her? Talk to someone as beautiful as that? Was this guy out of his goddamn mind?
When he sat next to the blonde girl, Jasper saw that she was drawing a charcoal sketch of a rose—and was doing an excellent job. It was almost as it she had taken a photo of one and was simply drawing over it. “Wow,” Jasper said, “I can’t even draw a good stick figure.” She was a little jumped by Jasper’s sudden presence; she had been too enthralled with her art to notice the world around her. This woman looked over to her left, examining the man sitting next to her with her gray eyes. He had blue eyes—the color of glacial ice—and black hair, the color of which matched her blouse, jeans, and fingernails. A dark leather jacket hung on his broad shoulders. “Jasper Garrison,” he said, extending a hand to shake, smiling, showing his white teeth. She examined his hand for a moment, regarding it as if it were a rodent of some kind, or the hungry jaws of a poisonous snake. “Angela Sevlar,” she said quietly, almost whispering. She shook his hand for a few seconds and returned to her drawing. Jasper watched as she added a smudge to one of the petals, shading it. “You look lonely,” Jasper said, “Would you like to join me?” She looked Jasper over for a second, sizing him up. A look of general contempt shaded her face, as the charcoal shaded the rose petal. “You’re not my type,” she said quickly and added a stroke of gray to the rose’s stem. A highlight. “Oh, my heart shatters into a billion tiny pieces,” Jasper retorted sarcastically, and Angela raised a frigid eyebrow. “No, you really don’t take my breath away, either. But, my friend up there—” He jerked a thumb back towards Nigel. Angela looked back, and Nigel panicked, hiding his face with his Steno notepad. “—is being a jackass about talking to you.” “Hmm,” Angela said, watching Nigel for a second longer, examining. She lacked the same look of disgust as she had had with Jasper. She returned to her drawing, again. “So, what do you say?” Jasper said, “Care to join us?” Angela added one last smudge to a petal then looked the sketch over. She closed her sketchbook, and stowed her charcoal pieces in a pencil pouch, her fingers somehow skillfully void of char smudges. She put both of these items into a worn black bag and stood. “Fine,” she said, putting her palms on her hips, “But I’m not going to sit next to you.” Nigel brought the Steno down cautiously—as if it were a shield from a fiery attack by the woman in the front row; a vengeful angel bringing divine fire upon him. He peered over the top of it and saw Jasper walking up steps, Angela behind him. “Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Nigel said, his heart thundering. He brought the Steno back up, examining his doodle of a ghost being sucked up by a Electrolux vacuum from an inch away. Jasper sat down in the seat next to him, and he felt Angela brush by his shins; she sat in the seat to his right. Nigel—sweating rather profusely—set the Steno down. He brought a stiff hand up, waving jerkily, and said, “H-Hi.”
“Hello,” she said back, and brought out her sketchbook and charcoal again. She flipped to a new page and started to draw. Nigel turned and looked at Jasper, who was smiling. Jasper’s smile faltered when he saw Nigel’s grimace. “What?” Jasper said queitly, as to be inaudible to Angela. Yet it mattered naught—Angela was already long gone in her drawing, obsessed with what was quickly turning into some sort of gothic-looking tower. Nigel took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, shaking his head. “Oh, come on! Buck up—” “Buck up?” Nigel hissed, throwing a glance over his shoulder. Angela was enthralled by her drawing; she didn’t seem to notice them. Nigel reset his glasses and looked back at Jasper, who was grinning. “What the fuck do you mean ‘buck up’? This funny to you, or what?” Before Jasper could answer, a tall man spoke from the front of the class. “All right class,” his deep voice called out, “Settle down, settle down.” He stood in the center circle of the lecture hall, facing the mass of students. He wore a tan suit and black dress shoes buffed to a high sheen, making them look as though they were made of obsidian and not leather. A silver-streaked black beard and curly, short hair framed his rather squarish face, like the mane of a lion. His dusky skin was the color of mahogany. “I’m Professor Maximus Dove,” he said, “Now, before we go over the syllabus, are there any questions?” There were a few, rather conservative questions: “Will we actually see any ghosts here?”, “Will there be field trips?”, et cetera, et cetera. One smartass said, “Will we need to buy matching jumpsuits?” Everyone chuckled at this, including Professor Dove. Then a woman spoke. “Will we be covering demonology?” Jasper’s brow furrowed; the word buzzed in his ears and agitated his mind. Demonology? He turned to look up at a standing woman with hair a much darker shade of red than Nigel’s. The hue of fire. Her eyes, conversely, were the color clover, like deep pools of viridescent water. Freckles, a slight shade darker than her skin, dotted her face as if they were paint splatter from some genius artist. She wore a more feminine, lighter colored version of the jacket Jasper wore. At first glance, Jasper thought an angel had landed in the middle of class to make sure the masses had been taught to be vigilant against the Interloper and his minions. This fantasy, however, would be crushed swiftly. “No, Miss—?” Professor Dove said. “Eliza Chapman,” the woman said. She had a rather imposing air about her, from the way she stood to the way she spoke. Even the Jumpsuit Smartass, who sat next to her, seemed to be wary. “Yes,” Dove said, “Well, Miss Chapman, we will not be covering demonology in this particular course.” “Okay,” she said, satisfied though disappointed. Jasper raised his hand. “Yes, Mr.—?”
“Jasper Garrison,” Jasper said, “And I was going to say: isn’t demonology a pseudoscience?” Before Dove could answer, Eliza stood and spoke. “It is not!” she said. “It is too,” Jasper replied, turning, “There is no physical proof that demons actually exist.” “There is too!” Eliza replied, “Look at the historical evidence: the Bible, the thousands of years demons existed in popular mind before that, the firsthand accounts of those who have been possessed—it’s all there. Look at Ingrid Solvalise—” “What about her?” Jasper bellowed, face contorted in a frustrated sneer. “She was possessed by six demons,” Eliza said, matching Jasper’s expression, “And there was substantial evidence this was so. She spoke in multiple voices—“ “—which is humanly possible, and not necessarily demonic—” Jasper scoffed. “—And what about those who were there during her exorcism?” Eliza said, “They reported anomalies, like levitation and telekinesis, which no human can perform—” “—Ms. Chapman, Mr. Garrison,” Dove tried, “I realize your passion but we must really—” “—So what about them, huh? Jasper retorted, “They were her irresponsible parents—a drunkard father, crackhead mother—and a ludicrous priest! How do you know they weren’t lying?” “How do you know that they were?!” Eliza screamed back “They made a movie about it!” Jasper yelled, “How can you consider that to be concrete—” “ENOUGH!” thundered Dove, his voice like a bass drum being struck as two flutes trilled. Jasper and Eliza stopped yelling—stunned—and looked at Dove. He was breathing hard and was quite flustered. “Mr. Garrison. Ms. Chapman. I would advise that you two both take your seats before I am forced to make you leave the classroom.” Jasper sat, glancing over his shoulder to see Eliza doing the same. Both wore bitter expressions as the class murmured in criticism and wonder. “Now,” Dove said, taking in a deep breath and collecting himself, “I see your passion over this issue. Ms. Chapman, I’m sure we can devote a class to demonology.” Jasper opened his mouth to saying something, but Dove cut him off. “And, Mr. Garrison, I’m sure we can devote a class to debunking demonology and forming an antithesis. But, for right now, I must implore that you two not break into another fight. My heart just can’t take it!” The class chuckled at Dove’s crack. Afterwards, as one skinny, pallid girl asked how much spiritualism would be covered in the course, Nigel leaned over to Jasper, hissing sarcastically, “Way to show that bitch, dude. Put her in her place. Not like it made you look like an ass, or anything.” Jasper merely grunted at the jeer. Dove hoped Eliza and Jasper wouldn’t get into another fight like the first—hoped as passionately as Jasper and Eliza hoped that the other wouldn’t take the course. Alas, nobody got their wish, and during nearly every class from then on, Jasper and Eliza broke into a heated debate over something. Whether it was the true nature of poltergeists (“They
intentionally try to harm people!” “Poltergeist activity is only an after-effect of the spirits frustration—not their homicidal tendencies!”) to which brand of thermal camera worked better (“FLIR!” “Argus!”), to why blue eyes sucked and red hair was ugly, they were always bickering about something. One day, in mid-December of their sophomore year, they broke into a particularly nasty fight over orbs—small, spherical manifestations of a spirit. “I’m telling you,” Jasper said, pointing in at a photo in a book—a book he particularly despised because it was sensationalized, like so many others he had read in high school, “An orb is a projection of the spirit, not the spirit itself! It’s just a mass of energy created to draw attraction to its presence; nothing more!” “And I’m telling you that it is the spirit!” Eliza retorted, “Look in the book! It says it right here on page 259!” “Oh, come on!” Jasper scoffed, “You can’t honestly believe that!” “Oh, so now you’re an expert?...” And so on. Meanwhile, Nigel and Angela—who had become rather good friends with one another and Jasper—watched on, not daring to interfere. Much like surviving a hurricane, or dealing with cougars in the wild, they had found it always best to either run and/or hide when Jasper and Eliza came within a yard of one another. In some ways, it was like dealing with two volatile chemicals, who, when combined, formed a deadly acid with explosive tendencies. Students that December day had been paired up around tables to share tattered, secondhand books and read about the different forms spirits can take—can manifest in. Professor Dove walked over to Angela and Nigel. “So, Angela, Nigel,” Dove said, orator’s voice booming no matter what volume it was at, “How’s it going?” “All right, I guess,” Nigel said, his mustache bushier than it was the first day of college, his hair still wiry. Angela was staring, entranced, at Jasper and Eliza, who were screaming at one another, inches away from each other’s face. “Will they ever stop?” Angela said dreamily, as if she were in some other, transcendental plane. Professor Dove looked at Jasper and Eliza. He sighed, resting his hands on his hips and shaking his head. “No,” he said, “I’m afraid they won’t. Never have. Never will. They’ll just keep on fighting until one of them dies, I guess.” “So why have you kept them this long?” Nigel said, “Isn’t it sort of college procedure to kick someone out if they cause such a ruckus?” “Technically, yes, Mr. Harrison,” said Professor Dove, “However, if you hadn’t noticed, this program is just starting out with meager funds. As it stands now, we have limited resources—the Board is skeptical of funding such an…unconventional course as Parapsychology. The fact that I’m here teaching this class and Multimedia Tech is proof that they want to check the water before they dive straight in. So, if this program is to survive, we need good results. Those two,” he said, pointing at Jasper and Eliza, “As volatile as they are, are our best hope.”
In June two years after that day, on a temperate day with few clouds in the sky, Jasper, Nigel, Angela, and Eliza all graduated with the rest of their class—which consisted of five other students. A week before Jasper, Angela, and Nigel did, as they ate the favorite restaurant, The Great Wall, they talked about their future. They sat in an overstuffed red booth, next to the window. Outside, a beige car drove lazily past the restaurant. Red paper lights with golden tassels hung from the stucco ceiling, casting dim light onto the small dining area. Three plates—one with lo mein noodles, two with fried rice—sat at the one woodgrain table. A pu pu platter sat before them, a Sterno-powered fire at the center of it keeping the food lukewarm. There were few other diners in the small restaurant. “My folks won’t want to see my face after graduation,” Nigel said, biting into a chicken finger. “They thought I was throwing away my life. Said I should’ve been an accountant or lawyer, rather than chase ghosts,” he scoffed, “I don’t even know if my room’s still the same. It was painted a different color when I came home for Christmas this year, and my Weezer poster was taken down. Got in a big fight over that one.” “So what are going to do?” said Angela, using chopsticks pick up an egg roll. She took to using them ever since they started eating there—a skill which only she of the three of them possessed . “Don’t know,” Nigel said, finishing the finger, “Definitely not Tex-ass. Things down yonder are a bit…awkward.” “I can find a place for you, I imagine,” said Jasper. Nigel’s eyes shot up from his plate, interested. “You know what,” Jasper said, tentatively trying to deliver his radical idea, “I think I’ve got a place for all of us.” From inside his jacket, Jasper pulled out a wad of folded papers. Unfolding them, Nigel and Angela saw that Jasper had printed off information from a real estate site. A color photo of a two-story shop squeezed between two larger buildings—a hardware store and a pizza parlor—sat surrounded by blocks of information. Jasper read. “Old gift shop and apartment,” he said, and passed the paper to Nigel, who stared at it in disbelief, “Two bedroom, one bath. There’s a little kitchen, and even a back office for the main room downstairs.” Jasper passed another page—this on filled with photos—to Angela. “We can’t afford this,” Nigel said, almost scoffing, skimming through the papers, “Dude, it’s 85 grand for the place. Not to mention we have our student loans to pay off.” “Yeah,” Angela said, and exchanged papers with Nigel, “And where is this place? I mean, unlike Nige here, my parents actually care about me. I don’t want to have to travel across thirty states just to see them, you know.” “It’s all taken care of,” Jasper said, “My mum said she’d take out a business loan and help us buy the place. We’ll just give her some of the money for the payment each month until we get our agency off the ground.” “But I’ve already been asked to work for TAPS,” said Angela, “I just have to sign the contract.”
“And PennParanormal’s got my resumé,” said Nigel, “In the next week, I should get a call from them.” “But, guys,” said Jasper, “This is our chance to start our own agency, to do things our way. Do you want to be rolling and unrolling extension cords for the next six months, really?” The other two were silent. “Besides, my mum’ll help float us along to our first couple jobs.” “But, still,” Angela said, “That’s a lot of help.” Jasper sighed, and looked out the window for a moment. “Ever since my gramp died,” he said, eyes focused on his car across the street— the sole patrimony he received from a man he registered as a father, “She’s saved as much money as possible to help me out, you see, and she’s bent on getting the place. For me.” Jasper looked at them, imploring (even if a bit melodramatically), “For us.” Both Nigel and Angela felt slightly uncomfortable now; how could they say no? “And, besides,” Jasper said, looking down and examining his rice, scooping some up with his fork. “It’s not far from your parents, Angela—it’s in Carlton. My hometown.” Late October, and it was overcast. Jasper sat in the office of HGS (Harrison, Garrison and Sevlar) Paranormal Research Agency, alone. Three days it had been since they left. Three days of staring out the goddamn window. They had received a request from a man named Daniel Fuller, who owned a lighthouse in Boothbay that was—supposedly—haunted. To confirm this, he wanted somebody, quote, “scientific ‘n’ all professional-like—like those guys on the Sci-Fi channel.” He had found them in the phone book—“Thank Gawd for Yella Pages, don’cha know.” “Dude, can I ask a huge favor of you?” Nigel asked the day after Fuller called. They had just had Chinese takeout. Again. “I guess so,” Jasper said, though a bit cautiously. Angela was off in her room—a room she deemed hers, seeing as though she was “neither loathed or worshiped” by her parents—probably drawing. He and Nigel, left to share a room instead of Jasper staying at his mother’s, (much to Alicia Garrison’s disappointment) sat at the table in the cramped kitchen, dim light from the sink the only source of illumination in the room. The kitchen, somehow in its compact space, had a twoburner electric range, puny, burnt-out oven, scratched metal sink, and linoleum sideboard. Three small cupboards hung above; four below. A light also hung over the table, but it was, like the stove, burnt out. The compact fridge that came with the place hummed loudly. “I need you to stay here for the Boothbay Job,” Nigel said in a single, hurried breath, obviously knowing it was an act of blasphemy and betrayal. Jasper’s brows furrowed. “What?” “I need you to stay here,” Nigel repeated. “Why?” Jasper said, “Nigel, this is our first job—our first time out on the field besides our exam.”
Their exam—which they had taken two weeks before Jasper proposed buying the now-unappealing building for HGS—took place in a house that had been confirmed to be haunted by an established parapsychologist (i.e., Dove), unknown to the students. They were each armed with a set of thermal and night vision cameras, a flashlight, and their wits. The largest chunk of points on the scoring rubric were that they had to find solid evidence of a haunting, and solid evidence of a hoax. A hoax that Dove had set up. Jasper had passed swimmingly, in an act of brilliance finding that a spinning mirror was hooked up to a motor…as did Eliza. “I know, man. But, the thing is…” Nigel checked the narrow corridor that led to the bedrooms and the bathroom. “Thing is—what?” “The thing is,” Nigel said, collecting himself, “I’d like to have some alone time. With her.” “Her?” “Her.” “Ooh,” Jasper mocked, barely restraining his grin, “Does loverboy have plans?” Nigel stared at Jasper, his lips pursed beneath his bushy mustache. “Seriously,” Nigel said, graver than a mortician at a mass-murder site, “I need some time with her. But, I sort of can’t with this Full House setup you’ve screwed all of us into.” “Hey, you didn’t have to live here,” Jasper retorted, “You could have lived with your Republican-Nazi-SuperChristian parents down in the Lone Star State—what was the color of your room, now? Pink? Mauve?” “Rose Blossom,” Nigel spat, as if it were nasty and bitter. “Rose Blossom…” Jasper echoed, nodding solemnly, though barely holding back mad peels of laughter. He sighed, rubbed the back of his neck and said, “Fine, but when you come back, supper’s on you for a month.” Nigel slammed his hand on the table and got up. “Deal,” He and Jasper shook hands. “And you’ll wash and wax the Challenger, as well.” “But—” Nigel tried, but Jasper cut him off with two words. “Rose Blossom.” “HGS Paranormal Research Agency,” Jasper said, trying not to sound too bored, but ultimately failing. He had spent the past hours counting the pinholes in the white suspended ceiling. He had run out books to read—he had all ready read them. Twice. Cable television was not an option, here. His laptop lay shut on the desk next to his propped feet. They could only afford dial-up internet, and he had all ready run out of things to do on it. After a while, surfing the net for car parts, illegal music downloads, and porn just got tiresome. The only thing interesting that had happened today was this call. The only call for the past week—save for his mother, just “checking in.”
“I wish to hire an investigator,” said the voice on the other line. A chill ran down Jasper’s spine—it sounded familiar. But, from where? Whose voice was this? He had heard it before, knew he had. But that was irrelevant; he did not want to speak to it, anyway, didn’t want to spend another moment on the line with it. Yet, with great reluctance, Jasper did speak. At least he wasn’t bored anymore. “I’m sorry, but all of our investigators are gone on a case, and I have to stay here,” said Jasper, throat dry, “To, you know…answer calls.” Jasper hoped that the voice would hang up; it would just give up and he could continue being bored. Something within him, like an instinct of some caliber, didn’t like the tone, the timbre, of that voice. “That’s too bad. I was willing to pay good money,” said the voice, slick as oil, cold as ice, like molasses in an icebox, “In fact, thirty thousand dollars.” Jasper’s jaw dropped mentally, hung ajar physically. Thirty thousand! That was five times the maximum he ever expected to earn on one job—and roughly ten times Fuller’s asking price. “I think I can take that case,” said Jasper quickly, reconsidering his options. He tried to defy his instinct—to dismiss it. It was, after, just a stupid instinct. It had no basis in reality, right? But, still, he could rid himself of it; so he just did his best to ignore it. “Really?” cooed the voice in an almost-malicious glee, “How fortuitous!” Jasper shuddered, but, nevertheless, continued on. “Yeah, I'll just need to have an address of where we’ll meet and some identification.” “I’ll meet you at the place I want you to investigate.” “Okay. Where's that?” “It’s in the town of Steadfast, Maine. Ever heard of it?” “No.” But he had. Had…somewhere. (Treadpast? Medfast?) “It’s a quaint little place, nestled in a valley, surrounded by towering, blue mountains,” the voice said, as if reading a bedtime story to a child—and not the bubblegumDisney kind, either, but the gothic Grimm Tales, “The place I you want to investigate is the grand hotel at the head of that valley. The Cavalier Inn.”
Jasper slid a piece of paper closer to him on the cheap, battered desk they inherited with the building. Several, random doodles covered the margins: a revolver, a wishing well, a series of right angles connected like zigzags. He wrote down the information—Steadfast, Cavalier Inn, thirty thousand dollars—and pulled out a road map from the desk drawer. After Fuller had called, they started to panic—they, (not even natives like Jasper and Angela) did not know where Boothbay was, or how to get there. So, Nigel went out, purchased two road maps, and left one behind as a spare. Lines of red and green made a complex web across the yellow state of Maine, thousands of different numbers peppering the interlacing lines. Names like Portland,
Augusta, Bangor, and Kittery dotted the terrain, behemoths to smaller towns like Bethel, Standish, or Rangeley. Yet no Steadfast Jasper could find, not even the directory. “I can’t find it on the map,” said Jasper, still searching for Steadfast, but to no avail. It was nonexistent. A ghost. “Oh, you won’t find it on any map made in the last eighty years, or so,” said the voice cooly, “The nearest town to it is Goff Falls.” Looking over the map again, Jasper saw Goff Falls. It was a small (nearlyinfinitesimal) town in the middle of, quite literally, nowhere. Only one route—Route 201—lead close to it, the last thirty-or-so miles a smaller northbound road. No other routes connected the town…except one. A small, hair-thin red road that went just a mile or two north of Goff Falls and stopped dead. The line was so thin, Jasper thought that the people who made the map didn’t want anybody to see it. “Is Steadfast north of Goff Falls?” Jasper inquired, following the short road up and down, up and down. “Yes, at the end of the road,” the voice replied, as if he were right there, reading the map with Jasper. “Meet me there the day after tomorrow. At noon. That should be enough time.” “Wait, wh—!” The line buzzed a deathcry; the man had hung up. Jasper turned off the phone. Two days, and he didn’t even know the client’s name. Two days; that’s all the time he had to get the supplies he had to have—supplies, which were expensive; supplies, which would sap up the last of their money—no, not even that; supplies that would send their business credit card’s bill through the roof and into orbit somewhere around Neptune. He had to buy an entirely new set of cameras—Nigel and Angela had taken the only sparse set they owned, gifts of Dove. Cameras, which were very expensive. Cameras, whose overnight shipping costs would be enough to send the bills out into Pluto’s orbit—as well as insurance to ship them. And, he had to talk to the Nigel and Angela and explain his predicament. Explain that he had to spend the last of their pooled money and max out their shared business credit card. Good luck with that, Jasper thought, Considering you’re just rolling in dough. Yet what choice did he have? Thirty thousand dollars; with that kind of paycheck and their current financial situation, why, he would be doing himself and the business a disservice not to take the job. Picking up the phone, Jasper dialed Nigel’s cell number. After a few rings, the voicemail message started. “Hullo, it’s me, Nigel. I can’t answer the phone right now.” Christ, Jasper thought, It’s like he doesn’t have a fucking soul. He grinned. “So leave a message after the tone.” The tone sounded, and Jasper said, “Hey Nigel, it’s me. Just calling to see how you’re doing…you know, checking into see how the Love Game’s playing out. My money’s on a lobsterman with a bad leg and crazy eye getting to her before you.” Jasper tried to make it sound funny, but, in his mind, it just came off as stiff, forced, corny, and obvious of its purpose: to lead into an inane proposal—one that included the expenditure of money. “Uh…anyway, I also need to tell you about this incredible job offer.”
Jasper then went on to talk about the high pay, Steadfast, and the Cavalier Inn. He neglected to mention that he had to buy cameras or the cold voice that had called. “Imagine it, Nige: thirty grand!” Jasper said, “But, the thing is, see, I have to be there the day after tomorrow. So, seeing as though your not there, I’ve decided to take the offer. If you don’t like it, buck up or call me on my cell sometime in the next two days. Hurry up, Romeo.” Jasper hung up the phone, and started Googling paranormal investigation suppliers on his laptop. The dial-up connection was sluggish, like an elderly man who had just awoken from a long nap and was expected to run a triathlon. He found one site which could deliver overnight—for, of course, a fee. Revolutionary Industries, Inc. had everything he needed in a camera set: thermal and night vision filters, and a rudimentary EMF detection device in them. Basically, if a ghost or a live wire came within feet of the camera, it would know. It wasn’t very sophisticated—nor was the thermal or night vision, judging by the screenshots taken by it—but it was useful, and, according to RI’s webpage, “the latest advancement in parapsychological tools, now available at a reduced price!.” Jasper set up an account with their credit card, and used it instead of using their pooled money on the cameras; it would be better suited for the trip’s expenses—food, a motel room, an whatever obstacles he might face. He hated to use their card—he had heard horror stories of bankruptcy and foreclosure from his mother enough times as it was. But Jasper had no choice; he just didn’t have any money or any time to waste. While he was connected to the internet, he also did a little research on Goff Falls. As it turned out, the town had its own website—although it wasn’t much of one, by Jasper’s standards: simple, basic text, no animations, no banners. Hardly even a background; all that was done to it was a color change from the default white to an evergreen shade. As he looked through the pages of scenic photos depicting urbane streets, peaceful forests, and a waterfall—the town’s titular feature, which allegedly spewed from an underground spring inside Goff Mountain—he found a list of businesses. The only one he needed was Goff Falls Motel, whose phone number was written beneath their business description. The small paragraph talked about the owner, Murray McGregor, how the business was started in the thirties, how they were one of the few motels in the area to provide a continental breakfast, blah-blah, blah blah, blah-blah-blah. Jasper didn’t pay attention to the hubristic description much—practically forgot most of it by the time he shut his laptop. He just used his cell to call the number. A gruff man answered. “Goff Falls Motel,” the man said, “How may I help yeh?” “Uh, yeah,” Jasper said, taken aback a little by the thickness of his voice, “I’d like to get a room for this Thursday.” “All right,” the man replied, “And yer name is?” “Jasper Garrison.”
“All right,” the man echoed, “Check-In starts at eleven, ends at foah.” The man said “starts” in a way which cannot be written down logically, with normal letters. The closest thing to it would be “staahts.” “Okay,” Jasper said, “Thanks.” He closed his cell, shut his laptop. Jasper then, walking across the room and jogging up the stairs located next to the door of their unused back room, started to pack the necessities (toiletries and so on) and what little ghost hunting equipment he had for himself—a digital thermometer, cheap EMF detector and high-powered flashlight amongst them. These items were, to the paranormal investigator, as knives were to a chef; each has to have their own, regardless if they were alone or working in a group. And each keeps them in prime condition as to be precise and professional; for, as a dull knife makes a rough cut, inaccurate sensors create false readings. When Jasper was packed, it was closing time; although, seeing as though he lived there, “closing time” was more of a formality, if anything. He set up the automated message machine, and flipped the sign hanging in the door from OPEN! to SORRY…WE’RE CLOSED. Locking up the building, he headed out to his car. His car, a 1970 Dodge Challenger, was the color of a maraschino cherry, with a black pit of a scoop on the hood. It was his one (and only) heirloom left to him by Grandpa Dean, who had gotten the car years ago—supposedly right off the assembly line in Detroit. He had kept it in showroom-quality every day…up until the day he was committed to the hospital, coughing up mucus the color of the scoop. Every Sunday, as people went to church, Dean would wash the car, and inspect every square inch of it. Literally. After he died, Jasper continued the practice of obsessive car care—every Sunday the car would be washed. Then looked over for any sign of wear or tear. Then repaired or tuned if needed. And finally driven around town, in a sort of victory lap. Jasper did this every single Sunday, as if it were his own form of sermon. Jasper slammed the heavy metal door shut and turned the ignition. The old 426 Hemi within the Challenger started with a low rumble, like a monster awakening from a long slumber; a fuel-incinerating leviathan from many years past. Nigel and Angela didn’t particularly care for the Challenger—Angela especially. She drove a hybrid made by either Honda or Toyota; Jasper forgot which. One day, after class at Norton, Angela spoke up, at last, on how she felt about the Challenger. “Are you trying to destroy our planet?” Angela said doggedly. “What?” Jasper said, grinning, sitting in the driver’s seat. They were about to go out to The Great Wall for dinner, and it was the first time that Angela had seen the Challenger. She was, clearly, unimpressed. “It sends thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere just idling there!” she said, “God forbid you put the damn thing in drive!” “What in the hell are you talking about?” Jasper said, smile gone, now on the offense.
“That!” Angela said, pointing at the Challenger as a priest might point at the Devil Incarnate, “That thing you’re driving!” “Yeah,” Jasper said, eyes narrowing, “What about it?” Angela sighed, rubbing her temples, shaking her head. “It’s releasing smog-forming emissions,” she said, frustrated by this planet-killing simpleton, “Why can’t you just drive a hybrid—or least a more compact car, like Nigel?” Nigel had been standing there, leaning against his green Neon, looking awkward. Awkward seemed to be a word that described Nigel most of the time; Weird at others. “What,” Jasper said, then smiled slyly, “You mean like Nigel’s Peon?” “It’s a Neon,” Nigel replied, “And yes, I—we—think you should. It would save you gas money.” “Oh, and I suppose that Peon of your’s is a real chick magnet,” said Jasper, “A real stud-mobile.” Nigel flushed a bit, deflating. “At least he’s not trying to deep-fry the planet!” Angela spat in retort. Nigel seemed to re-inflate at her words, face beaming. “Well, I’ll be sure to turn up the AC, then,” Jasper fired back ignorantly. They still went to The Great Wall that night, although Angela a bit begrudgingly. Jasper drove through downtown Carlton, rain pattering against the Challenger. Jack-o’-lanterns, scarecrows, and other black-and-orange decorations dotted lawns and covered home façades. Just days from now costumed children would be running about town, begging for candy. He passed the hardware store first, then the general store, the auto repair shop—Mick’s, after Mick Flanders, a friend of the Garrisons’; he and Dean especially—and finally slowed in front of a diner. Maine-ly Eats. A terrible pun, if ever there wasn’t one. Jasper parked across the street, in front of the municipal building. The rain was starting to grow harder now, pattering relentlessly against the Challenger’s steel body. The church, in a cul-de-sac at the head of the street, was beginning to blur. Jasper killed the engine, shoved the keys into his pocket, and got out, slamming the door shut. He then ran across the street, pulling his leather jacket up over his head to shield himself from the rain. The road had just begun to get wet, black splotches forming on the gray asphalt as he burst into the diner, letting his soaking jacket back down onto his shoulders. Maine-ly Eats had three large, rectangular windows, two wooden booths sitting at each window. A long, white counter stood across the dining area from the booths, the wainscoting of the oak trim and the linoleum gleaming under the halogen lights hanging overhead. Wooden stools with pine-colored cushions lined the gleaming counter. Jasper walked across the pale linoleum floor, looking at the signs and items that covered the walls. Photos of farmers, lobstermen and woodsmen in mismatched picture frames. License plate with various, tawdry slogans—MAIN-R, MY CAH, and the like. A large clock, with a faint ring of green halogen around its face, hung high above everything else: the time, it dictated with its brushed metal hands, was 5:36. Jasper walked past the first two pairs of booths—the first had a husband and wife, both middle-aged and solemn, the second, three teenagers in sable attire, with expressions
to match the older couple. In the third and fourth, a portly man in a beige suit and a man wearing jeans and an oil-stained gray shirt and blue cap. Both looked too tired to eat their food. Jasper took a seat in the farthest booth, the sixth, his back to the wall. A photo of a potato farmer hung above him, the man covered in grime and dust as he hauled a bushel of potatoes from his harvester. The clattering sound of washing dishes came from the open window to his right; he looked inside and briefly saw a teenage girl in a bleachstained black shirt, who looked as though she might use the one of the knives she washing on someone. “Well, where have you been?” Jasper looked up and saw a woman in tight, black jeans and a white blink-182 tee; a smiley face with X’s for eyes was stretched around her bosom. Her brown hair had been done up in a wild knot at the back of her head, her eyes of the same warm color. A black apron was tightly tied to her waist. “Oh,” Jasper said, surprised, “Hi, Candice.” She was an ex-girlfriend of his from high school—in fact, she was one of the very few girlfriends he had ever had. Now seeing Candice after so many years, he suddenly realized that. “I still prefer Candy,” she said, and gave a sly wink. Jasper felt very awkward, just then. Felt like Nigel would have. “So, what’ll it be?” “Something cheap that’ll keep the dishgirl from stabbing me with a steak knife,” Jasper said, throwing a glance to the window, “She looks seriously pissed.” A pot suddenly crashed down into the sink, a steaming Hindenburg from the cook. The water, in consequence, flew up her abdomen and onto her face. “Oh, Heather?” said Candy, “ Yeah, she’s always like that. Wouldn’t blame her though; it’s a sucky fuckin’ job. So, will fingers ‘n’ fries, do ya?” “It’ll do me just fine,” said Jasper, and immediately thought, And you would, too, given the chance. He tried to wrestle his mind from the gutter, but had trouble doing so— and got himself rather dirty in the process. “Good. Coke?” Candy asked. “As always.” “Haven’t changed much, then; thought college made people different,” she said, smiling, “Be right back.” She walked back behind the counter, and, as she did, Jasper could help but catch a glimpse of her backside. He forced his mind out of the gutter this time, and instead looked out the window, watching the torrential rain fall upon Carlton as day faded into night. A knock on the glass door. Jasper had been making himself a tuna sandwich upstairs in the kitchen. Candy had left before he had awoken five-or-so hours ago, with not a note or kiss goodbye. Typical. He was just in the process of smearing the tuna-and-Miracle Whip paste onto his toasted bread as the sound of thudding glass met his ears. He froze, like a zebra hearing a twig snapped by a predator on the Savanna. Jasper hurried down the stairs, thud-thudthud-thud-thud, like tires on a bumpy road. He slowed to a stride as he approached the door.
A tall, chubby man in a brow UPS uniform stood outside, a red dolly loaded with boxes behind him; it was held in place at an angle by one hand, a clipboard cradled in the other. Jasper opened the door. “Jasper Garrison?” the man said. “Yes.” “With an order of,” he looked over the paper on the clipboard for a second, then read off it. “‘Six GhostCam cameras and one receiver box?’” “Yes.” “Please sign,” he said, and turned the form over to Jasper. Jasper signed; the man promptly took the clipboard back and studied it. “Okay,” he said, “May I come in?” “Yes.” That was the only word he said during the short time the UPS man delivered the boxes—save for a ‘thank you’ when he left. There were three boxes, total. The UPS man left him behind a yellow copy to confirm delivery and took the white copy—still attached to the clipboard—and his dolly. Jasper didn’t want to look at the price in the bottom right-hand corner of the thin, yellow slip—rather, he pretended that there was not a price to this order, but rather it was a gift from someone other than himself. When the delivery man was gone, Jasper ran upstairs, finished making his sandwich, put it in his mouth and brought a knife back downstairs with him. He bit into the sandwich with an audible “crunch,” set it on the desk, and, with his heart thumping, opened the boxes. The first two boxes were thin and rectangular—boxes that frail paintings might come in. He opened them both carefully, as if they contained such paintings, and laid the open boxes out on the floor. The unblinking, black eye of each camera stared up at him as he opened the boxes. There were three blue, chrome-accented eyeball cameras to each, held into place by flimsy white plastic. These cameras came with mounting brackets and a regular foot—so that they could be set on surfaces on hung on walls. One antenna was taped to the side of each camera. Jasper looked down at the six cameras for a moment, observing them, and then opened the larger, cubic box. He pulled out a rectangular, bubble-wrap clad device that looked similar to a Wi-Fi receiver, except it was far thicker. He tore off the bubble wrap and saw the installation CD, receiver antennae and manual taped to the top of the box. He set this on the desk next to his charging laptop. Looking back inside the box, he saw another bubble-wrapped rectangle—this one was gray, and Jasper knew what it was when he unwrapped it. The battery-charger. Over the course of the following few hours, Jasper installed the GhostCam program and cameras and plugged in the charging station—it held twelve twenty-hour batteries for the cameras. The receiver box charged by itself when plugged in, holding it up to forty-eight hours of charge. After its battery became depleted, it would draw on the computer through the wire connection—as to allow maximum portability. All these features added a level of convenience to paranormal investigation which Jasper had never seen; it was obvious that Revolutionary Industries was really onto something.
But, still, Jasper didn’t dare to look at the price. He shut everything down afterwards and packed it back up in the boxes. He proceeded to pack the cameras and receiver box in the Challenger, along with the two suitcases he had packed previously. He didn’t want to have to deal with it the next day. Jasper would have to leave early. The alarm buzzed, piercing his ears with minute pins and needles. Jasper clawed around for the off button, cursing. He found the alarm’s off button and slammed down on it with such force that Jasper didn’t even know if the button shut it off, or if he broke the alarm itself. Either way, at 4:30 in the morning, Jasper just didn’t give a damn. He could afford a new alarm with thirty grand. He looked at the clock—it was still in one piece, 4:30 still glowing in red. Groaning, Jasper dragged himself out of bed; stumbling around, he managed, somehow, to get his clothes together. Later, he would vaguely remember shambling down the hall and taking a shower in the cramped bathroom—it was a little too cold, the water, but it woke him up faster than coffee ever would. Clean and in fresh clothes, Jasper walked into the kitchen. The coffee pot he had set to turn on at 4:20 had failed to start. Again. He didn’t bother with it; he just had some cold chicken he had had for supper the night previous. Jasper walked back into his room and put on his shoes. He tossed on his leather jacket, put on his watch and pocketed both his keys and wallet. He then descended the stairs and exited the office area, locking the glass door behind him. And, with one final look at HGS, his current home and business, Jasper set out for Goff Falls as dawn barely cracked awake.
The ride to Goff Falls was long and dull. Towns passed by him sluggishly as the sun arose, splashing warm yellow light over the state’s topography. Jasper watched as people evolved throughout the day—awaking, starting their cars and driving off to work, kids being picked up by buses to go to school, the roads beginning to empty as midday drew nigh. And almost every house or building he saw had some kind of decoration—were it a single jack-o’-lantern, or an entire funhouse setup on their lawn. He saw this all as he drove north, to Goff Falls. Several times, he had to stop—to check if he was still on track, or to relieve himself—and promptly kept on driving thereafter. Finally, at around 11:30 or so, Jasper drove past a large wooden sign with the visual aesthetics of driftwood, that said: Goff Falls: a Diamond in the Rough. Like a hypodermic of speed, reality was injected into Jasper’s veins when he read the sign, breaking his tunnel vision. He was, thank God, almost there.
The town, which was about a half mile from the sign, sat underneath the stern gaze of a steep, evergreen-and-orange mountain. The mountain was so steep, in fact, that in order for Jasper to see its top, he had to stick his head over the dashboard and crane his face upwards. A waterfall spewed off the mountainside—from an underground source, as the site had claimed—and made a long, white, churning arc. Jasper couldn’t see where it landed, however, because the town blocked the view; he assumed that it must land in a lake or river of some kind. The town was a mass of buildings, all huddled together in a gully, like a small herd of pale sheep nestled together against the cold valley. Few streets led off the main road, and even those didn’t go very far—the steep base of the mountains surrounding the town impeded them from doing so. As a result, businesses and homes clashed, sharing the same space. Where there would be a hardware store and gas station, there would be two Victorian farmhouses surrounding it; where a home was, the Municipal Building and Library crowded it. Jasper drove through the Main Street, observing this odd mash of residential, municipal and commercial buildings, when he noticed something else. There were no decorations. No pumpkins, no ornaments, no dried cornstalks. Nothing. Jasper, rather confused about the lack of Halloween spirit permeating the town, pulled into the parking lot of the Goff Falls Motel at the end of town. It really wasn’t the end; a worn, unkempt asphalt road still stretched on, undoubtedly leading to Steadfast. But, as far a Goff Falls was concerned—and human civilization, for that matter—it seemed, no such road existed; for there were no other buildings beyond the Motel. He parked the Challenger. Across the street, he saw as he got out, the general store sat. Its parking lot was the same size of the Goff Falls Motel’s—small. Callaghan’s, read a wooden sign above the front doors of the market, similar in style and condition to the town’s welcome sign. Jasper studied the store for a moment, scrutinizing the brick edifice, and then walked to the main office. The main office for the Goff Falls Motel was sparsely furnished, with a compact coffee table and two wicker chairs across from the front counter to one’s right as they entered. Across the room, in front of a set of doors (two were bathrooms, one just a supply closet) a woodgrain table sat, an orange cooler and steel coffee maker on top of it. Behind the front desk, a teen girl with blonde hair sat, reading an issue of Interview. She wore an Avril Lavigne shirt, and numerous bracelets. “Hello?” Jasper said, walking to the desk. The girl looked up. She wore pink lipstick and was chewing gum. Doublemint or Winterfresh; either way, he could smell it’s minty aroma from where he stood. It gave her a very bovine look. “I’m Jasper Garrison, I—” “Got yer room right heah,” she said both impatiently and apathetically; as if she were about to say, I know, I know, don’t exert yourself too much. “Thuhteen.” She passed him an old key with a green plastic tab with the number thirteen in bold, black print on it. “Thanks,” he said, “How—” “Fifty-five,” she said, and extended a hand. Jasper saw that the majority of the snare of bands around her wrists were for charity—Livestrong, and others. Jasper pulled
out his wallet and gave a fifty- and five-dollar bill. She gave a forced smile, and returned to her magazine. “Ya have a good day, suh.” Just as Jasper turned to leave, he turned back her. “Just out of curiosity,” Jasper said and the girl sighed, looking up again, “Why aren’t there any Halloween decorations up?” “Guess we don’t like to look like complete idiots,” she said, impatiently and apathetically again, “Have a good day.” She returned to her magazine and Jasper walked to the door. But he stopped, and turned again. “And, sorry to bug you, but,” Jasper said, and noticed that it obviously bugged her, “Where does this road lead to?” Jasper pointed to the main road, and looked at the girl; she watched as a car left the Motel’s parking lot, and turned right. The girl remained silent, staring at the road, at the car. At the misfortunate driver of such a doomed vehicle. The car ran between them and Callaghan’s for a second, and then disappeared into the forest. “Excuse me?” Jasper said, and the girl looked back at him. What was he? A tourist? Some rich Flatlander? Some top CEO or computer genius coming all the way out here, to “admire the foliage?” Whoever he was, he was definitely a schmuck—had no idea where he was mere miles from. And, as much as she despised Flatlander schmucks, they didn’t deserve to die. “Where does this—” “Nowheah,” the girl said, glancing at where the road disappeared into the forest. The road had a somewhat mythical quality to it—as ancient, bleak caves and craggy abysses surely had on our ancestors. It was the path to monsters. To Hell itself. Only fools or the bravest of heroes would dare to walk these paths, and to do so meant almost certain death. The girl looked back at Jasper. “The rud leads to nowheah. Ya have a nice day, suh.” Jasper walked down the concrete path that led in front of each door. (‘The rud leads to nowheah.’) The girl had acted a bit odd when Jasper asked her about the road. Seemed to almost freeze—as someone who has gone through a tragic experience acts when asked to recollect on the subject. ‘The rud leads to nowheah.’ He looked at the doors; they were all painted green. He passed the scuffed brass numbers. Nine…Ten…Eleven…Twelve… He stopped. Thirteen—or, as per Mainer, Thuhteen. Jasper stuck the key in the keyhole and opened the door, not knowing if he should have laughed, or if he should have sighed. The room probably hadn’t changed in four decades. Thirteen was hazy with dust—the shag carpet alone seemed to produce the stuff. The walls were just as groovy as the shag carpet; a hideous, multicolored wallpaper with Burnt Orange, Mellow Yellow and Army Green flowers coated them—all except those in bathroom. It had wood paneling, instead. The toilet, sink, and shower all matched the chipped baby blue tiles on the floor. The mirror above the sink was cracked.
Walking back into the main part of the room, he studied the bed. This—at least, and thank God—was not covered in multicolored flowers or other psychedelic patterns. It was a regular bed, covered in a regular blue blanket and regular white sheets with regular, matching pillows. Save for this bed, Thirteen was like a time machine back to 1974. Jasper dropped off his suitcases, and didn’t bother to leave his tools—he would probably need them tonight. Looking at the parking lot in his review mirror as he pulled out, he thought something was missing. Something had been there before, he was sure of it. But he decided not to stress over it—it didn’t even matter, did it? Did it? He turned to his right, disappearing into the encroaching forest, following the fool’s path to Hell. Halfway to Steadfast, Jasper heard a loud thud. A blown tire. “Dammit!” exclaimed Jasper, grimacing, looking in his driver-side mirror. A flap of black rubber turned and turned, flailing like as if it was a raven caught on the rim. As Jasper slowed, the flap slowed as well. “Hell,” he sighed, resting his head on the steering wheel for a moment. Tires were expensive. Getting out and slamming the door, Jasper inspected the damage. The left rear was as shredded to fine strips; it looked as if a tiger had used it as a plaything. How so much damage could have been done, he didn’t know. He looked down the road, yet saw nothing that could have decimated the tire so. He sighed, gritting his teeth—this shit only happens to me, doesn’t it? Jasper got out the jack, tire iron, and the one (and only) spare out from the trunk—at least he had a spare, he thought vaguely, it could have been a lot worse. Nevertheless, rage pumped through his veins like a narcotic drug, distorting the world around him at the edges, like looking through a pair of potent glasses. Unknown to him as he pumped down on the jack, within the next few days, worse things would happen than a torn tire. Far worse. And, before it was done, blood would be shed. Someone would die. Halfway through switching tires, as he rolled the spare into place, Jasper heard a voice from behind him. “Howdy mistah—whatcha’ doin’?” Jasper turned around to find himself face to face with a small boy with gold hair. Freckles dotted his face, and a set of pale eyes peered into Jasper’s—not at, but into. Jasper jumped at this boy’s sudden appearance. “I was…uh, changing my tire,” Jasper stammered. The little boy cocked his head, screwed up his face in confusion. “Ya change tiahs?” The boy said. Jasper now noticed that the little boy was dressed in dark knee-length trousers and a white shirt. He reminded Jasper of a Norman Rockwell painting—or Huckleberry Finn. “Uh…yeah, when they blow,” said Jasper, “Shouldn’t you be with your parents?” It seemed rather curious that such a young child would be out here. Alone. “Actually,” said the boy, “I wus wonderin if ya could take me inta town in that there fancy automobile of yurs. Need to see m’ Mum bout somethin. ”
“Uh…sure,” said Jasper, somewhat taken aback by the thickly-pronounced request, “By the way, what’s your name?” “Billy, suh,” the little boy said, “Billy Johnston.” Jasper finished with the tire quickly, careful not to swear as loud as he had—the anger and frustration had been mostly flushed out of his system when Billy jumped him, like a cold shower after a hangover. He put the jack, tire iron, and annihilated tire in the trunk, slamming the heavy metal hatch shut. Jasper got behind the wheel in the driver’s seat afterwards, Billy sitting in the back seat, squeezed between the door and boxes of supplies. As Jasper began to drive, he got the vague notion that he looked like Hector the Abductor. The ride was quiet; Billy didn’t ask questions. Nothing about the boxes of stuff beside him. Nothing about the low roar of the engine under the hood, or the shape and color of his “fancy automobile.” Nothing. Jasper, on the other hand, thought up a hurricane of questions to compensate. Why did Billy look so strange? Why did he seem so quiet and peaceful—shouldn’t he be a little more excited? Or scared? Why did he call his car an automobile? Why not a car or ‘ride?’ Why was he out here alone? Was he playing in the forest? If so, how could any parent be so irresponsible? And what about his mother? Did she live up here, all alone? Was she like a— Jasper saw the town. Steadfast was a small, linear hamlet—constricted by mountains more so than Goff Falls. The major difference here, however, was it was a encyclopedic definition of a ghost town—totally devoid of human life. The windows were boarded up. Peeling—or nonexistent—paint covered the buildings. Metal roofs had rusted considerably, or fallen in altogether. Shingles flapped or had been torn off entirely. Exposed wood was gray from years of aging, and rotting in some places. There seemed to be only one road off Main Street— one that led to a cemetery atop a pale hillock. The town was a drained, dusty, defaced corpse. Mountains framed the valley Steadfast lay in like dour, indigo sentinels—no bright, happy foliage here. The surrounding forest was thick and dark, each tree the color of the gloomy sky overhead. Unlike the section of road where Jasper had blown the tire, or the mountainsides, there were no leaves on the trees or ground; it was as if these trees had all died many years ago, no bright leaves covering their branches for many autumns. The forest, as a result, looked even more threatening—the trees looked like twisted, deformed skeletons, their wretched hands reaching out as if to drag someone in the forest and join them, their pointed teeth tearing at the sky. Ravens were perched on top of the trees, atop the forest’s mouth, looking at the newcomer with flat, black eyes. They were, it seemed, the only form of life here. Jasper stopped. “Are you sure you want to be dropped off here?” asked Jasper. He looked around the town and saw no signs of life—save for the rooks. Everything seemed as dead as the trees or the corpses in their grave on that distant, pale hill.
Billy gave no response to Jasper. He looked in the rear view mirror. No Billy. “Hey!” Jasper turned around to see if Billy was hiding in the leg space. Still no Billy. Opening the door, Jasper got out and looked around. No Billy. “Huh?… Where the hell?…” Jasper grumbled as he got back into the car, “Fuckin’ kid—must’ve ran off.” Jasper started moving again and peered up at the head of the valley. There, sitting like a monarch at his demented throne, a totalitarian dictator before his frenzied assembly of sickened masses, sat the Cavalier Inn.
Things were even worse up close. Jasper passed through the deserted town, examining the depressing buildings from the safe distance of his driver’s seat; the car felt somewhat like a protective shell from the town’s deathly atmosphere, like a space ship against the vacuum of space. It seemed as though nobody had been—let alone lived—here for years. No cars. No trucks. No bikes, no other forms of transit. No animals, no toys, no lights within the buildings. No people. Nothing. This fact alone gave Jasper the chills, and made even the heavy steel bulk of his car seem insufficient as a form of protection. Any such feeling of utter isolation and vulnerability, he assumed, would scare even the bravest of souls. As he passed an old gun shop—which may or may not have contributed to the town’s demise (Jasper didn’t yet know; he was merely speculating)—he passed the last of the asphalt, rolling across the rumbling surface of hoary gravel. Up the road no more than a few hundred yards, sat the proud Cavalier Inn. It was a large building, and a definite landmark in its heyday—or any day, now that Jasper thought about it. It reminded Jasper of a wooden castle, in a way: The Inn was three stories of lavish build, with a spacious ivory verandah, double doors and an outdoor recreation area—complete with what seemed like (and was) a hedge maze. The Inn was painted white with dark red trim and moldings, the paint of which seemed better preserved than the rest of the town’s buildings. There was another thing Jasper noticed, too. A car.
Eliza Chapman was always fascinated by the paranormal. Her grandmother would often tell her stories of her family’s legacy of paranormal hunters when Eliza was barely old enough to even understand what she was talking about. From her grandfather, who supposedly photographed ghosts and hunted demons, to her parapsychologist parents, who died in a car crash when she was five—they ran off the road into a tree, both suffered snapped spines. Somehow, this story of the crash never satisfied Eliza; it seemed a mundane way to meet one’s demise, and especially not a death pertaining to people who
chased things most people were terrified by. But, she accepted it. Her grandmother wasn’t one to lie. Or so she thought. Despite her adeptness in her classes as she grew older, Eliza was teased and publicly humiliated by her peers—based, mostly, for her beliefs. Beliefs of paranormal phenomena. Beliefs of post-mortem life. Beliefs in the supernatural. As a result of these beliefs, on a day-to-day basis Eliza was sent through a gauntlet of snide jokes and maliciously penned notes, all connected to usually one of several central ideas: “Eliza is a witch,” or “Eliza’s Gram’s a succubus,” and so on. Usually they would follow these templates, for at times the jokes would get crueler and the rumors would leap from the scrap-paper notes and through others’ mouths, landing on impressionable ears. These affronts would go beyond her personal beliefs; they would include her appearance, personality, or financial situation (which was poor). Trying desperately to find acceptance, she joined a niche labeled by her peers—as a teenage society so often does; labeling, it seems, allows simple minds to grasp the idea of stereotypical people and dismiss the notion of individualism—as Goths. Though the Goths weren't her favorite type of people (at times their erratic, vergeof-insanity personas concerned her and her safety deeply) they accepted her. Whether or not she fully accepted them…well, that was up for debate on a daily basis. And if they took their Ritalin or not. She had some steady friends. Lynnette Burgess, (a girl who wore clothes size twenty and was a size two) shared some similar beliefs as Eliza, such as life existing after death, or demonic possession. Yet, Lynette saw things in an extremely occultist view: she taught Eliza several pagan incantations, the usage of mystic crystals, and the names of demons. Eliza, though not liking the occult or caring about demons’ names (she thought that names were irrelevant to a demon), tried to learn the incantations and titles. Eliza, however—not an enthusiastic one to summon Satan—decidedly forgot them each time Lynnette and the gang would drag her to an old house to open a portal to Hell. Something about the idea of turning her hometown of Granite Peaks, New Hampshire, into another Amityville seemed unwise. Contradictory to her clique’s “never-try” motto, Eliza always earned A’s in her classes, and graduated near the top of her class—salutatorian. Even so, the rest of her class still ridiculed her. Still claimed she had sold her soul for high grades…even though they were merely trying to draw attention from their own inferiority. She went to Norton University of Innovative Technologies (to a mixture of surprise and disappointment from her teachers, who expected Harvard or Princeton; to a simple “that figures” response from her classmates) and excelled even further in the world of the paranormal. Her only problem was one Jasper Garrison. Out of the entire class, including Professor Maximus Dove, Jasper was the only one able to pick apart or even trump her answers. The only one bold enough to face and debate her, eye-to-eye. And because of their violently different views, they argued over everything.
“I’m telling you, the demon is a real entity!” Eliza argued with him the day that they reviewed demonology—as it turned out, they had to touch on it again the next day, as well. Their debate took up half the class. “How?” Jasper retorted, “Where’s your proof?” “Oh, let’s see,” Eliza scoffed, “How ‘bout a few millennia of eyewitness accounts?!” “Ms. Chapman,” Dove tried, “Mr. Garris—” “So?” Jasper fired back, “Anybody can lie, Eliza!” “Yes, but did they all lie?” “I tell you,” said Dove to the Jumpsuit Smartass, sitting down and placing a hand on his cheek, “Sometimes they almost drive me to drink.” “It’s a possibility!” bellowed Jasper, “And, furthermore, Delacroix stated in his Life Past Death that a spirit cannot simply be created—it needs to be created within a body, a vessel, before it’s mature enough to leave it!” “So?” Eliza spat, “Have you ever heard of Hell or demonic possession?” “Oh,” Jasper scoffed, “Isn’t possession just another way of saying ‘acting?’ Besides, there’s know way one can justify the existence of Hell—or demons, for that matter.” “Well,” said Eliza, “Why don’t you go there and find out?!” And off they would go, leaving poor Professor Dove not knowing what to do. Never had the man seen two students so against one another, so passionate about their view—and so relentless. It was as if they were two starving Rottweilers brawling for a piece of steak, and for Dove to interfere would end in the subtraction of two or more fingers. At the very least. “You know,” said Mia Goldfield, “You could just stop fighting with the Jasper guy. Maybe he’d stop if you would.” They were eating at Lenny’s, an Italian restaurant—their favorite. Mia was Eliza’s best friend at Norton; her dark, delicate skin was soft under the halogen lights of Lenny’s interior. Eliza raised her eyebrows, staring into her friend’s dark eyes, the color of black olives. “Yeah,” Eliza said, sarcastically, “I’m sure that’ll stop him. Meanwhile, gas prices drop to five cents a gallon and all wars end globally. Peace and prosperity permeate all of humanity.” “I’m just saying,” said Mia, stabbing a meatball and bringing up to her mouth, “It would make Professor Dove a lot happier—or at least healthier. He always gets so tense when you two get at each other’s throats.” She popped the meatball into her mouth. “Bethides,” she said with a full mouth, “Heeth kinda ‘ot.” She swallowed. “Who?” Eliza said, trying to restrain an instinctive, mocking smile. “Jasper?” “Mm-hmm,” Mia said, “And you really could use a relationship—it’d calm you down a bit. Your tighter wound than a mandolin E string. It’d at least give you a person you can vent on and they won’t hate you for it afterwards.” “I thought that’s what you were for,” Eliza said, sipping her Pepsi.
“I hate to tell you this, girl,” Mia said, patting Eliza’s hand, “But this relationship ain’t goin’ that way.” Both giggled. “Well, regardless whether he’s attractive or not,” Eliza said, “Which I’m not saying that he isn’t, but…” She twirled spaghetti around her fork, thinking, resting her head on her fist. “But?” Mia asked, hoping against hope that there’d be a breakthrough. Eliza looked up at Mia, her green eyes meeting Mia’s black ones. “I just don’t think it’d work out.” Eliza said, and brought her spaghetti up to her mouth. “We’re just too different.” A year and three months after that conversation, Eliza graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Paranormal Investigation and Parapsychology. She started her own firm in her apartment (with the aid of her grandmother), Eliza Chapman: Paranormal Investigator in Granite Peaks. Everything she did was much like Jasper…however, Mia didn’t join her; she went back to her home in Los Angeles, to join an already established agency there— the West Coast Paranormal Society. It was just a few months after Eliza began, and, after taking up a job as a waitress at a local diner to keep the bank and loan company from breathing down her neck, she received a call for a job—her first, in fact. It was late October. The job paid out Thirty thousand dollars, an amazing and helpful pay—which she needed, since she had just bought some topflight gear. Gear that had gotten her into this pinch with the bank. The place that needed to be investigated, the place that would get her the thirty grand: The Cavalier Inn.
“Great. Just perfect,” grumbled Jasper as he drove up the road to the Inn. He recognized the car—a 1973 Chevelle, painted gold with black racing stripes. It was Eliza Chapman’s—his old college rival. He didn’t like the looks of this; some voice kept chanting in the back of his mind, quietly, fervently, fired, fired, you’ve been FIRED!!! Jasper tried to forget it, but couldn’t. It spawned so many questions, like Billy Johnson. Why was she here? Was he replaced? Were they working together? God forbid. And even if they were, how would he—they—be paid? How much? Was the pay split in half? Furious, Jasper parked by her car, red hulk shuddering to a stop. She had the same car back in college, still in the same condition—pristine, like Jasper’s Her car was one that, as Jasper was to Eliza, was his Challenger to her Chevelle: adversaries. Jasper turned his attention away from the Chevelle—and his worry—and studied the Cavalier Inn. It stretched upward and to each side before him; impossibly huge, it seemed, for Steadfast. It was just then that Jasper realized how odd it was for such a titanic building to exist out here—what was the owner’s motive? To lose as much money as possible? There again, the seclusion and grandeur of the resort must have been what
attracted people to it. Maybe it was the chance to sever one’s ties to modern society temporarily, and vacation in isolation without sacrificing any luxury that attracted people. Maybe. Jasper walked up a set of three wide, worn-out steps onto a spacious porch, bowing where he stood. He stared at the huge double doors, awestruck by the marvelous images of nature carved into them. Deer pranced throughout a forest. Songbirds flew low overhead as a bear lumbered into the scene. Large trees, both soft and hardwoods, dominated the background. An elk—the subject of the beautiful doors—stood in opulence across them, profile graceful and strong. A large, azure marble took the place of its eye; this, for some reason unknown to him, sent a shiver down Jasper’s spine. Perhaps the oddity of such an earthy, beautiful carving being ruined by a tacky gem was what did it. Perhaps. The rest of the porch wasn’t quite as magnificent as the door. The white paint cracked and peeled in places. The worn boards creaked feebly under Jasper’s weight, like old men yelping at sudden back pain. The windows were dull and cloudy from years of aging and coats of dust. Jasper reached out to turn one of the lavish, and now tarnished, silver knobs. But it turned itself, the door squealing open. And there, in the doorway, stood a very irritated Eliza Chapman. A rather imposingly tall woman, her fiery green eyes drilled into Jasper with lazer-like heat. Hair, the color of fire, followed down behind her head, curling slightly around her shoulders. Freckles still covered her face. Jasper was the same as he always had been to Eliza: a pale, tall man—taller than herself—with a shock of short, dark hair and eyes the color of an iceberg. His frame, though thin, did have a slightly athletic physique. A mahogany jacket hung off his broad shoulders, leather worn and faded. He wore a smug expression—most likely to cover up his own anger. “Why are you here?” asked Eliza in a bitter tone that sounded restrained from her full fury—which it was. Why are you here? It wasn’t a question; it was a command. Jasper wondered, just then, how anyone could talk like that and not have the aftertaste of lemon or horseradish on their tongue. “Same reason you’re here,” replied Jasper, passing by Eliza into the lobby brushing against her. How any man could support a corporeal form with such an inflated ego, she knew not. Her eyes followed him, and were inevitably drawn to the seat of his tight, dark blue jeans. She raised an already arched, cinnamon eyebrow, and looked up at the back of his head. Cliché. That was the first thought in Jasper’s mind, This can’t be real—it has to be some kind of movie set or reality show. Candid Camera, Supernatural Jackass Edition—hosted by Ashton Kutcher. Any minute now, that fuck’ll come running out with his stupid trucker’s hat on backwards, smiling and laughing, right before I send his teeth down his throat. Furniture—two armchairs, a sofa, and three coffee tables—sat off to Jasper’s left. Tall windows next to the furniture gave a view of the overgrown hedge maze. The furniture was covered by sheets and inches of dun dust. To Jasper’s right, the front desk sat. A
tall, wooden stool sat behind it, pigeonholes with keys and assorted notes behind it. A breaker box hung beside the pigeonholes. To the left of them was a door—probably to what was once the manager’s office. To the right of the double stairs stood an inconspicuous door, apparently unworthy of a plaque denoting its purpose. Next to the door, a bar with red barstools sat, the bottles of whiskey, gin, and vodka still there, still waiting for some dry throat to parch. Cobwebs covered everything—from the legs of the barstools and coffee tables, to the banisters of the great double staircase and the monolithic glass chandelier overhead. Even the bottles of alcohol seemed to have been left untouched for many a-year, left only to be the pylons for the arachnids’ deathnets. Jasper walked over to the front desk and dragged his fingers along in the blanket of dust, grim grinding beneath his index and middle fingers’ tips. He brought them up and looked at his filthy fingers. “Lovely.”
“So, you were hired to come here and investigate, I take it?” asked Eliza, who had managed to rip a sheet off on of the armchairs and not get covered in dust. She now sat in it, arms crossed, eyes still unrelenting in their ferocity. “By Gordon Architecture?” Jasper raised an eyebrow, looked back at her. “Never found out their name—” “Typical,” Eliza retorted, rolling her eyes and looking away, “So unprofessional.” Jasper was taken aback momentarily, then thought of a comeback. “Believe what you want, Lizzy,” said Jasper, grinning slyly. “Don’t call me that!” spat Eliza. “Well, excuse me!” said Jasper, rolling his eyes, “How about Elizabeth?” he asked. “No,” she replied in a heartless monotone. To Jasper’s ears, however, he thought that he heard a little resentment in the voice. That was good. Payback for being called unprofessional. “Beth?” “No” “How about Liz?” he asked. “If you have to,” sighed Eliza, conceding defeat. Jasper grinned. Within his mind a scoreboard had already been erected. Jasper: 1, Eliza: 1. Then, to his surprise, Eliza smiled, and said “Casper.” “Wait a minute!” exclaimed Jasper with the same contempt Eliza had over her nicknames. “No one calls me that! Nobody!” “Whatta matter? Does da name Caspy-waspy annoy you?” cooed Eliza in a babytalk voice. She tilted her head, grin had widening. Eliza: 2, Jasper: 1, her own scoreboard declared.
“Stop it!” yelled Jasper, feeling embarrassed and rather childish, as if they were to children in a schoolyard. Yet his need to fight—to protect his pride as if it were the last barrack in a war—was compulsive. “Stop it right now, Lizzy!” Eliza laughed, disregarding his pallid attempt at vengeance. His ego really was his downfall. Still mocking, she spoke “Caspy-Waspy,” thrice over. “Are you done?” growled Jasper through barred teeth when she had finally stopped. “Oh I guess so…” said Eliza, still half-smiling. Jasper leaned against the wall next to the double doors, far away from Eliza’s perch. This he did to avoid her personality, though she thought it more to give his pride enough wide berth. They remained silent for a few moments. “Now…” Jasper said, “Why did they hire both of us? I mean, we’re from different agencies. Why hire two and spend more?” “I don’t know—” started Eliza, then a deep voice cut her off, “Let me answer that.” Jasper and Eliza turned their heads in unison to find a large man in a suit. He stood in the open doorway—had opened it somehow without making a noise. He was a tall, black man, broad-shouldered—his physique that of a Grizzly with thumbs. He wore a black Derby to match his dark suit with blue pinstripes. Beady, brown bear-eyes observed them from underneath the rim of his compact hat. “Who are you?” asked Jasper cautious as to not offend. He was a giant of a man, the kind of giant who were capable of making Cream of Man soup with their bare hands, and Jasper didn’t want to start anything—didn’t want to get liquified and served hot in a saucer. He was, after all, just a skinny white boy. “I, sir,” said the man, “Am a representative of Gordon Architecture and Associates. Mr. Gordon—the man who hired you both—cannot be here today, because of unforeseen circumstances. So, I was sent here to inform you of your job tasks; you may call me Mr. Rimer.” The man extended a hand for Jasper and Eliza to shake. They both took his muscular, plate-sized hands with their puny hands, feeling as though they had been constricted by a boa afterwards. “So why are there two of us?” asked Eliza. “Well, ma’am, if I may be blunt,” said Rimer, “We’ve been hirin people like you for years—tryin to get rid of the ‘spirits’ that supposedly haunt this place.” He used his meaty hands to quote the word. “We’ve even hired a priest to try an exorcism, but they’ve all left. Mostly the complaints were that they couldn’t stand it in here. Scared em stiff.” Rimer paused to look around the lobby. “Come to think of it, it’s kinda creepy in here.” He focused back down upon them, tiny eyes focused intently on the dwarves below him. “We’ve only just recently raised the pay, and you two were the nearest available agencies that we haven’t already tried. And, seein as thought there was only two of you, we decided to hire you both.” “But why?” implored Jasper, “I mean, we’re from different companies. Who gets the money?”
“Well,” replied Rimer, “You both sort of act like insurance in our case. If one decides to quit—or if anything else happens to that one—the other will still be here to investigate. And, hopefully, do something about this ‘haunting.’” Quoting the word. Something about the or if anything else happens concerned Jasper. But he dismissed it. “And the money?” asked Eliza. “Right,” Rimer said, nodding his blocky, Derby-clad head, “As long as you get rid of these ‘spirits,’” he quoted the word with his hands again, “You will both be paid the allotted amount that was promised to you. In each of your cases, thirty thousand dollars.” “But I still don’t under—.” started Jasper. “Listen, I haven’t got all day to explain stuff to you two. Here,” said Rimer, irritated as he passed them each an envelope. Eliza grinned. Eliza: 3, Jasper: 1. Jasper took the envelop warily, half-expecting Rimer to club him upside his head or grind his bones to make bread. “Inside each of these is a copy of the schematics to the Inn,” Rimer said, “and a town map to Goff Falls—where, I take it, you both are stayin?” They both nodded. That was the plan. Plans do fail, though. “Good,” said Rimer, “However, in case you wish to stay here, rooms A7 and A8 have been cleaned up for you. There is also one more thing.” Eliza and Jasper looked up at Rimer; they had been looking over their envelops, examining them, weighing them in their hands. Rimer produced two black, iron keys. “A skeleton key for each of you, which will open any—and all—doors in the Inn. You will start tomorrow, as to allow our,” Rimer paused for the briefest of seconds, but neither Jasper nor Eliza noticed. “clean-up crew finish and pack up. Now, if you wish, head back and get aquatinted to Goff Falls. You may be able to enjoy yourself before…enduring this place. Now if I can be on my way…” Mr. Rimer began to turn, holding down his hat as he ducked through the doorway. “What if we need to reach you?” Eliza said. Rimer froze, turning slowly to Eliza. Eliza paled, suddenly seeing something in his body language, in his beady eyes. As to what, she cared not to elaborate upon. “Don’t worry,” he said, almost growled, “We’ll reach you.” And with that, Rimer walked out to his car. It was an old black 1940’s coupe—Ford, and a true o-zone-decimator; it would have sent Angela Sevlar into an elliptical fit. He started up the dinosaur and drove away, the ancient motor grumbling as deeply as his voice had. “Well, I guess we’ve got the rest of the day off,” said Jasper to Eliza. He walked out onto the gravel where their cars were parked. “Great,” said Eliza sourly, “More time wasted.” “Oh, come on,” Jasper said, walking to the driver’s door, “Loosen up a bit.” “Sure,” she replied as she got into her Chevelle. Jasper, just then, got an idea. “Race you!” he said as he got into his Challenger and fired it up. He rolled down the window, as to talk to her. Eliza slammed the door of the Chevelle, and rolled down the passenger’s window.
“Oh, please,” Eliza called back, “My Chevelle against that? Ha! That isn’t a race! Besides, it’s illegal!” “Only if you get caught,” said Jasper, winking, grinning crookedly, “And I wouldn’t be talkin’ Lizzy—that thing you call a ‘car’ could never beat a 426 Hemi.” “It’s Eliza!” “Liz-zy!” Jasper cheered in a singsong voice. He revved up the Challenger playfully. “Okay, okay,” Eliza jeered, revving her engine, “You asked for it, Casper! 3, 2 —”And Eliza slammed the accelerator, gravel spewing out from beneath her tires. “Hey!” yelled Jasper and stomped on the throttle, gravel spraying out as equally as it had the Chevelle. And so, not knowing of the events to come, they sped away.
A Cry for Help
Jasper awoke the next morning in Thuhteen, groggy. His skull felt as if it was in a vice, pressure growing ever more intense on his temples. He looked at the empty six-pack box, its thin cardboard shell covered in shiny silver paint and red letters. He looked to the floor around the night stand to find its missing children; bottles, clear in color, with wrappers similar to the box girdling them. His hangover ached. Very unprofessional. He had spent the afternoon and night exploring Goff Falls—the race to the town had ended in a tie, but, in Jasper’s opinion, only because Eliza cheated. Goff Falls, as Jasper found out, didn’t have very much to offer in the ways of entertainment. A few restaurants sponsored by Coke or Pepsi, small cinema, grocery store, hardware store, post office, few civil buildings, and a gas station/garage. All of these were squeezed between numerous houses, and none, it seemed, sported any Halloween cheer. Odd. After fueling up at the gas station/garage—where he noticed a sign that read: SORRY, TOW-TRUCK OUT OF SERVICE. BE FIXED MONDAY—Jasper went to the grocery store and bought some food that he would need if he intended to stay at the Inn (at fifty-five bucks a night to stay at the Motel, he needed to save as much money as humanly possible. Even if it meant sacrificing luxuries like a clean bed or running water). By the time he was finished shopping—blew most of my money was the prevailing thought in his mind—it was suppertime again. He went to eat at a diner called Mama Goff’s Place. The owners’ names weren’t Goff—that seemed the norm: no one was actually named Goff in Goff Falls, and nobody celebrated Halloween—but most of the food, Italian, was good. And, most importantly, cheap. Afterwards, Jasper cruised around a bit, bored. Not being able to find anything to do (under ten bucks, at least), he went back to room thirteen. He couldn’t afford going to the movies, but he could, however, afford a six-pack. It was just before he entered his room that he realized what had been missing from the parking lot earlier, before he left for the Cavalier Inn: Eliza’s car. When he had first checked in, he had, somehow, neglected to notice the Chevelle’s presence. She left before he did, it appeared; and now, here they were. As he pulled into the parking lot, Jasper saw that the gold car was parked in front of room eleven. He considered going over there to give her a hard time, but then decided against it—he would probably find her naked, just getting out of the shower, soaking wet. Water running down her curved, slender body, red hair sticking to her skin. Somewhere in his mind, in some dark, muggy, primitive quag, a part of him liked that idea. A lot. He shrugged the feeling off. As he was flipping through the few, grainy channels he could get later that night, halfway through the six-pack and only slightly buzzed, he found that The Shining was playing—the original version. And, even though he had seen it and the miniseries (who could forget that annoying kid with the cleft lip?), and read the book, he still watched it. It was either that or a documentary about spawning salmon or an NBC Dateline Special.
Yet, even though Jasper had seen the movie before, the woman from room 237 still sent an involuntary chill up his spine. He didn’t know why…he had seen this all before; rotten flesh, creepy twins, et al. Yet, for a reason unknown to him, it was disturbing…as if the graphicness of it had been turned up a few notches. Maybe it was the beer. Little did he know, Jasper Garrison would see things over the next few days that were worse than any Hollywood Horror. Worse than the woman from room 237… although, Eliza would come close to seeing something like that. Jasper slept that night, somewhat paranoid, somewhat unsettled, and somewhat buzzed. “Here a boy, there a boy, everywhere a boy-boy…” A woman’s voice hissed in his room, as a poisonous snake does to rat before it sinks its deathly fangs into the throat. Jasper looked around. “Here a boy…” He searched everywhere. Under the bed. Behind the television, whose screen was snowy with static flecks of gray, black and white, a steady ‘cshkhs’ sound emanating from it. A hiss of self-defense. Everywhere he checked…except one place. The bathroom. “Here a boy…” Jasper opened the bathroom door. He flicked on the switch. “There a boy…” He froze. The tub. He walked into the bathroom—no longer baby blue, but bleached of all color; a pure white. Sugar, milk, salt, teeth…yes, yesss— Mummy? Shall I? Is the Cavalier Inn Safe? Help them; Help my babies! The Sins of the Child shall be repaid in the burning of the Begetters This all seems like sheer madness, but I cannot help but get caught up in it. The Sabbath Rite Hath Begun! I hope they do not get this. If they do, all is lost. I’ll take my sweet time with you, and you’ll scream. Like all the others. Yesss. A flood of thoughts—all meaningless, yet more important than anything else in the world. Thoughts with no basis, it seemed, yet were more real than the earth bellow his feet. Thousands of thoughts. Images there for a second, then gone. A chorus of voices and messages, a demon choir. Jasper tried to compute them—or at least save them—but the bathroom seemed a much more pressing matter, time marched on in this— meaningless life —dream and he lost most of them. Except for the last one. Yesss. It echoed. The curtains around the tub were drawn. He reached out…“Everywhere a Boyboy”…and pulled them back. His alarm clock, which now awoke Jasper with a chirring scream, read 6:00 AM. His head thudded; empty beer bottles, the culprit of his hangover, lay at the base of the night stand. Jasper stumbled out of bed and staggered into his retro, baby blue bathroom. No tub in here. Only a shower. Thanking God, he took a hot one, the warm water melting
away his hangover. Feeling refreshed, headache all but gone, he got dressed and inspected the free breakfast bar the Motel had advertised on the website. The breakfast bar was already set up on the woodgrain table in the lobby. But there wasn’t anyone there, except for the clerk—this time, big a man. Heavily built, with a balding head and a shaggy, black beard, clad in a red flannel shirt with rolled sleeves, he looked like a lumberjack of some caliber. “Gud mornin,” said the clerk in a thick, deep voice. It was the voice of the same person who reserved his room. “Sleep all right?” “Yes,” Jasper lied. The bar, he saw, had muffins, coffee, orange juice, and a few donuts. The coffee, no doubt, was instant, and the juice from concentrate; all of the foodstuffs were plastic-wrapped. Jasper snatched up a muffin and some coffee. Jasper sat down on his bed back in his room. He took one bite of the muffin and spit it into the wastebasket. Not only was it disgusting and pre-packaged, but it was cold—like it had been kept in a freezer and was just recently taken out to thaw. And, quite apparently, it had not been given enough time to warm up. Jasper looked at the rest in abhorrence and tossed it into wastebasket. He took his cardboard cup of coffee off the night stand and took a sip. It tasted burnt and old—not to mention lukewarm. Jasper shook his head, took it into bathroom and poured down the drain, cursing. After he tossed the cup, Jasper remembered Nigel. He retrieved his cell from his jacket and chose the speed dial with Nigel’s number—three, in this case. It beeped and dialed. The phone rang several times before it switched to voice mail. “Hullo,” Nigel drawled again, repeating his bland message to ‘leave a message.’ Jasper did just that. “Hey Nigel, it’s me. Again. I called to talk to you, but obliviously you’re not there, so give me a call when you get this, okay?” Jasper closed the phone, putting it away. He looked around the room. Everything was packed into his dark blue suitcase—save for the beer bottles and six-pack box; those served as a memento for the cleaning crew. Jasper picked up his suitcase and exited room thirteen, locking it; he tossed the suitcase into the back of the Challenger. Jasper walked back to the lobby, and tossed the key onto the counter. “Signin out, Mr. Garrison?” the bearded man said. Jasper though he looked somewhat like Blackbeard, the notorious pirate captain. “Yeah,” Jasper said. “Where’re yeh headin?” “Just up the road,” Jasper said. “Oh,” Blackbeard said, his face becoming extremely pale. “Well…be careful.” “Thanks…” Jasper said, not knowing what else to say. The situation was rather awkward. Jasper left the lobby, crossed the parking lot, and entered the Challenger. That’s when he realized something. Eliza was gone.
It was 7:00 by the time Jasper got to the Inn—even though it looked more like it was 5:00 when he pulled through Steadfast. A faint halo of light was just barely peeking over the mountaintops, backlighting their crowns. The trees looked even more like deathly skeletons now, their pale, bony exteriors in high contrast with the gloom of the forest behind them. Eliza was (as Jasper had feared) already there. Her Chevelle was parked out front of the Inn, and he parked beside it. Jasper got out and looked up at the Cavalier Inn. The white paint looked gray in the dim light; the foggy windows black, like rectangular pupils. The accents like red warpaint. Like blood. He retrieved his cameras from the back seat. Jasper walked up to the double doors and, while struggling with the boxes of cameras, opened one, slipping inside. The lobby was the same, despite the fact that it was far gloomier than it had been when he first came here. There were no major changes, really—except for a small, smug eyeball camera resting on top of the front desk. Jasper put down his boxes. He took a camera from the top box and compared the two. They were the same, save that Jasper’s was silver and blue, and this one was red and silver. So, Eliza had ordered the exact same equipment in a different color combination. Nothing too big. Except, Great, just what I need. Another set of cameras interfering with mine, thought Jasper. Then he realized that, below the lens of the camera, there was a small grille. He examined it closer. A microphone. Jasper set the camera back down on the front desk, and sighed. She had better cameras than he did—he should have foreseen this. Jasper: 1 Eliza: 4. He put his lesser camera back into the top box with the rest of its brethren and ascended the double staircase, heaving his cameras with him. In the thick dust on the steps, he noticed Eliza’s footprints. They were much smaller than his own. He reached the top landing and found himself in front of a long corridor. Doors lined the walls, spaced at regular intervals. The red carpet that covered most of the floor in the corridor was beaten and worn from heavy traffic. A wooden sign above him had an arrow pointing up that said: To Ballroom Stairwell. Jasper didn’t intend to head to the ballroom quite yet. First, he had set up a home base—A7 or A8. Jasper rummaged through his jacket, precariously balancing the boxes of cameras in his left arm, to find his envelope that Joe had given him. Opening it, he pulled out his schematics of the Inn. The old tattered piece of paper was split up into several sections, each of which was a floor plan for each story. In the bottom left-hand corner there was a section marked, lobby/floor A. This showed the lobby’s design; bar, desk, lounge and double staircase. At the top of the staircase, it showed the hallway Jasper saw before him. The rooms were roughly equal in size, marked from A1 to A8. Rooms A1 to A6 were the same exact size, but A7 and A8 were a bit larger than their predecessors. The doors that he passed were pale and eroded from years of deterioration, their white paint peeling. The faded brass letters and numbers fit the doors’ condition—they
were dull and scuffed. The ceiling high above him was molded tin, painted to match the doors. The paint had started to give in places, bowing like fat bellies in the tin. Hanging from thick black cables (no doubt against current electrical code), lamps like miniature chandeliers were dim and dusty, unlit. They looked like the remains of crystalline spiders, their bodies hanging from their last line of webbing. Jasper reached then end of the corridor. To his right, room A7—which had a newer coat of paint—sat, a small red camera, like the one in the lobby, mounted on the wall above it. There was no other information needed; that was Eliza’s central command. Her room. Jasper turned to room A8, (whose door had also been repainted) balanced his cameras on his left arm again, and took the skeleton key from his jacket pocket. Inside the keyhole, as he turned the iron shaft, Jasper heard a tiny click. The hinges groaned as he pushed open the door. Jasper stood in the doorway, finding himself in a room with a hollow, abandoned feeling. Dusty, sheet-clad furniture and dark wooden chairs were stored neatly against the wall farthest from him. The floor was dark, old hardwood—yet obviously swept, because there wasn’t a sign of dust anywhere on it. A pale carpet surrounded the four-poster bed, which had been made, the sheets clean and pressed. The intricate, iron head and left side of the bed sat against the floral wallpapered wall. Across from the right side of the bed sat a plain desk with a chair in front of it. Over this desk, a painting of an elk—like the one carved into the door—hung, the elk standing atop a hill. It faced the painting regally, and, Jasper saw, one of it’s eyes was completely blue—in fact, the same shade of blue of the crystal eye inset in the door. Later Jasper found, upon closer examination, that the eye wasn’t painted; it was a tiny crystal. This disturbed Jasper (like with the main doors) a great deal—although he knew not why. Jasper walked into the room and set the cameras on the bed. He then made two more shuttle runs, carrying the receiver box, his laptop, tools, and clothing into the room. Once it was all there, Jasper unpacked. After about an half hour of unpacking, Jasper set out with the cameras (batteries installed), schematics, cordless drill he had picked up from his grandfather’s garage the day the cameras were delivered, and skeleton key, all packed into his black messenger bag—which also contained his EMF detector, digital recorder, thermometer, and flashlight. Needless to say, it was both heavy and bulging. The first camera he set up was above his door. This would be useful to see if Eliza or anyone else—Jasper didn’t know who—was outside the door, along with whatever else haunted this hall. After he finished installing the first camera on its mount, the drill died; he forgot to charge it. Jasper just tossed it back in the room on the bed, decreeing it a ‘fucking piece of shit’ as it sailed across the room. It bounced on the bed once and then crashed into the floor beyond with a painful ‘crack.’ Jasper shut the door apathetically. The next places to set up the cameras were rather problematic. Aside from the fact he couldn’t mount them into the walls, the main dilemma was that Eliza’s camera’s fre-
quencies were cluttering up the air as it was, so Jasper had to set his cameras far enough away from hers in order for them to work—roughly ten feet, as their manual specified. Otherwise, the frequency would be broken or scrambled, and, in an industry all about collecting accurate data, this poses an issue lethal to the success of his investigation. Jasper pushed the power button on the camera. The red light beside the lens came on, and Jasper turned the corner to ascend the ballroom Stairwell.
The dusty stairs creaked and groaned as Jasper ascended them, moaning in protest of having to do their job after so many years of rest. The stairwell—lacking a light source, like the rest on the Inn—forced him to use his flashlight in order to navigate his way up without smashing his face into century-old steps. When Jasper entered the stairwell, the stairs went to his left immediately. Scuffed and bowed in the middle from many years past of heavy traffic, the steps bore silhouette footprints in the dust—ghosts of Eliza’s passing. Halfway up, these ghost footprints turned on a platform and up another set of steps, going in the opposite direction of the stairs Jasper had originally followed. When he was almost to the top of the stairs, he found himself level with a dim bulb to his left that must have—at one time—illuminated the stairwell. Jasper exited the stairwell, and entered a rectangular ante room. Two large, white double doors with brass handles stood off to his right. A large, dull brass plate above the doors read in flowing, cursive letters: The ballroom. The two rows of wooden chairs, each on the opposite sides of a large oil painting that showed a graceful elk with a prodigious set of antlers, were the only other objects in the room. The depiction of the elk was the same painting as the one in his room—except this one showed the profile of the elk, as if it were torn from the carving, painted, and then set in this picture frame. It’s blue eye—a crystal one, like all of the others—gazed down upon him. The permeance of such an outré interpretation of the elk deeply unsettled Jasper, for whatever reason who couldn’t pin down. Stained, rotting, floral wallpaper was on nearly every vertical surface, brown water stains running down them as sweat runs down a shirt. The floors were made of oncevarnished-now-crumbling wood. The floor squealed sharply as Jasper walked up to the double doors. He felt oddly paranoid of that elk in the painting; even expecting it to leap from the frame and shove its pointed antlers into his back, impaling him. How his bones would crush and flesh be torn, as the beast snorted, gazing regally at him with one blue eye while Jasper’s twisted, disemboweled body slowly bled out and died. Hurrying, Jasper unlocked the door on the right, and, with some great effort inspired by an illogical panic, shoved it open. The luxurious, voluminous ballroom, he saw, was a shadow of its former glory. Jasper could see the people waltzing upon the wooden floors, listening to the pianist play
his slow, delicate tune. He could see actors and actresses on the stage performing for the audience, both tragedies and comedies, Sophocles and Shakespeare. And the dining room full of people, each at their tables, eating fine foods and drinking exorbitant wines. The ballroom was far from those days of great glory and pride. The oak floor was tarnished and scuffed, falling apart systematically. The piano was covered in a white sheet, silenced like an encaged songbird. The maroon, velvet curtains of the stage were drawn, as if to symbolize that the last show was long done—only tragedies remained, it seemed, and not of the kind an actor could portray. The white paint on the moldering tin ceiling hung like leathery skin on a carcass. Gray-brown water stains—caused by some leak from the upper floors—made ghostly imprints down the gold-detailed wallpaper. The door that opened to the kitchen was ajar, and Jasper saw that one of its hinges had detached, leaving it to hang askew. A few paces away from the kitchen door, a set of wide double doors—like the ones that led into the ballroom—stood partly open, revealing a dark stairwell. Several glass French doors—each with yellowed lace curtains—lead out to the veranda. A dim veil of light from outside leaked through them; the sun had just rose triumphantly over the mountains. However, its victory would be short lived, for within a matter of hours the mountains would crowd in front of it, stifling its warm rays. To have lived in this valley, Jasper assumed, would have dictated that one get used to a seminocturnal life. The tables that had once filled the ballroom’s expanse stood stacked against the walls, chairs serving as their only companions. A crystal chandelier, similar to the one in the lobby, hung high above him, entrapped in cobwebs and dust. Jasper walked into the center of the room a noticed the red and silver cameras. One on the piano, one attached to the wall opposite the French glass doors, and one, he noticed as he turned around, above the door. Jasper felt surrounded; here he was, in the middle of one of the major rooms—no, major floors—in the building, with not a single place to set up his own camera without interference. He might have just given up on the idea of using cameras, just then, when he got an ingenious—or insidious—idea. Why not just hack into Eliza’s camera network? After all, it wouldn’t be too too hard—all he needed were the cameras’ codes, and he could have it all. And, the more he thought of it, the better it sounded. He was right across the hall from Eliza, so he could do it quickly—she would only need to be away from it for five minutes. Easy. It just meant accessing her account on her laptop. But how? That question was posed by a small, yet logical, voice in his head. But how? There was no connection between the two computers. Jasper thought up another idea right on the heels of the problem: he would merely sneak into Eliza’s room when she was gone, write down the codes, and get out. Simple as that. Five minutes, or less. Still, this would prove to be a challenge. Eliza would guard her laptop, watching it all the time for any signs of activity—even though it was all ready stored on her computer for viewing later. This left two options: either create a distraction from her computer for five minutes, or sneak in there at night when she was asleep.
But, those were a thoughts for later. First, Jasper should find where he could put his cameras—just in case he couldn’t break into Eliza’s account. This meant finding all of Eliza’s cameras, foremost. Jasper walked to the kitchen, the red cameras all watching him with unblinking, black eyes. The metal door to the kitchen was painted white and had an oculus, so that one could look in on the chefs or out on the diners. Jasper saw that it had been broken as he slipped into the kitchen. The kitchen had to have been one of the worst rooms in the entire building—had to have! Mildew and mold splayed across the peeling, rotting linoleum walls, greenishgray tendrils of fungus that ate away at the room like an acid. The ceiling—which was cement board—had begun to disintegrate, cracks and fissures snaking across the crumbling surface. The steel tables and sideboards below the ceiling were filthy with dust and mold. The cast-iron frying pans and stovetops were rusting at a terrible rate; the cupboards that held the heavy china were bowing, ready to give way and send the plates, cups, and bowls smashing into the metal sideboard below. One, in fact, already had. The door to the walk-in fridge stood ajar, and Jasper could detect the repugnant odor of decay coming from within it. Amidst this mess, a camera sat on the sideboard, staring at Jasper mockingly. Ha Ha, Ha-Dee-Ha-Ha. He left the kitchen. Jasper walked to the double doors. A brass plaque above them read, in cursive letters similar the ballroom’s sign: To Floor C. Jasper open the door all the way, and found himself standing before a set of wide stairs. A dank smell—something that smelt of must and age—wafted down to Jasper, caressing his face with its odious hands. These stairs, too, bowed in the middle, their stain well worn away. Jasper ascended the stairs for what he thought was at least five minutes—he had to stop and turn on several landings along the way, and whether it actually took five minutes or if it was just his mind tricking him, Jasper didn’t know. The stairs creaked wearily as he walked up, almost as if they would give way into the empty darkness below him upon a too-enthusiastic step. Jasper thought of this, and then imagined himself falling into the bowels of the Inn, becoming impaled upon some broken rafter, like an elk’s giant antler. Or worse yet, surviving at the bottom of it, probably being immobile, probably bleeding, and having to wait there and die. These thoughts were all too grim for Jasper—why they ran through his head, he did not know. They were almost like an invading army, trying to seize control of his mind. When Jasper reached the top of the stairs alive, he found another set of double doors—both were locked tight. He unlocked the door on the right and entered floor C. He found himself on a landing with two narrow hallways, spread apart by a barrier that was three or four feet wide. The doors in the right hall lined the right side, the doors in the left on the left. Each hall extended for what seemed several hundred feet. The carpets up here were faded from years of age and, in spots near windows, faded even more so from the light; they looked more like gray fur than anything else. The air had an even mustier smell than the stairway he just climbed. Where the light shined through the windows Jasper could see dust swirling in the air, flints of gold
twirling around like a sandstorm in the middle of a parched desert. And that was how floor C felt: parched and lonesome. Deserted. Somewhere inside Jasper’s mind, a cog turned, and a connection was made. floor C was a catacomb. It took Jasper an hour longer than expected. He had been trying to set his cameras up for an hour and a half no; he found Eliza’s cameras in both hallways, the one in the right at the beginning facing down the hall, and the one on the left facing the opposite way. Four other cameras were placed in other rooms. Jasper put his cameras in the remaining rooms—which were not as good in electromagnetic activity as Eliza’s—but, as Grandpa Dean would have said, he was done, by Gawd! Well, almost. Jasper was left with his last camera, but didn’t know where to put it…at least until he saw the door when he reached the end of the right hall. A simple, buffed tin sign hung above the door, with the words, The Attic, inscribed upon it. Jasper thought that this would be the perfect place to put his last camera. He would grow to fear the attic, soon enough. So Jasper, now at the beginning of the left hall, turned around and went down it. Most of the doors—which were spread apart by a few feet like the ones on floor A—were to the left of him. Seldom would a door appear to his right. He had opened one, out of mere curiosity, and found that in was a supply pantry, with a door to the right hall on the other side. Shelves of out-dated, expired, and indubitably toxic cleaning supplies hung on both sides of the closet. An old mop leaned against one of these shelves inside a green bucket with a wringing apparatus attached to it. An old Electrolux vacuum sat opposite, like an ancient, dead animal. Jasper reached the end of the hall. Dust swirled in the pale light flowing from the window, a twister of floating honey-hued gems. He turned right, and saw something in the corner of his eye; a child, perhaps. Perhaps a blue-eyed elk with a grudge. His pulse spiked for a second. He snapped his head around and looked in the thing’s direction, but there was nothing. No elk, no child. Fatigue, he thought, I’m just hungry and tired from walking around in these musty, old halls. He rubbed his face, blinked several times, and walked on towards the door in between the halls. A child. A little girl; he thought—he was sure—he had seen a little girl. Perhaps. Perhaps not. He stuck his key into the keyhole of the attic door, turned it, and heard a whisper of a click. He turned the knob and pulled the door open. A dark stairway lead up to the attic. Cool, crisp, fresh air poured down upon him. He found it odd, alien…and for some reason frightening. “Stop it,” Jasper told himself, “Buck up, dammit.” He tried, but could shake the feeling of trepidation coursing through his veins like snake poison. Jasper pulled out his flashlight, turned it on, and climbed up the stairs. They creaked, but nowhere near as
loudly as those that lead to floor C; they didn’t feel as though he would plummet through them at any time. Perhaps there wasn’t as much traffic here as the other stairs—these didn’t look nearly as bowed in the center. Like all the other stairs, this one turned several times before the top was reached; after the final turn, by the light of his flashlight, Jasper saw the door. It was old and gray, like some ancient elder a young warrior has to climb a mountain to find, and had no paint or fancy moldings. Just a door; just a simple old man. Jasper unlocked it and entered the attic. There wasn’t a better way to explain the attic. “Creepy,” said Jasper, in a hushed tone. Why he spoke so quietly, he didn’t know, or why he even spoke to himself. He was alone, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he? Unfortunately, no. The attic was very large, (Jasper could tell that much about it) but was, for the most part, crammed with storage shelves and boxes. A healthy—or unhealthy, depending on your view—blanket of dust coated every conceivable surface. As Jasper noticed this, he also saw that the floor was free of dust. Odd, but considering everything else he had seen, hardly noteworthy. The failing light—which came from the air vent on the other side of the wall—illuminated the room in bars from the grating; however, Jasper still needed his flashlight to see. He walked into the room and looked around. Mostly there were just boxes, but there were some stray items: books, lanterns and a rather eerielooking, misplaced snow globe among them. Jasper found the perfect place for his camera in the process: on the shelf behind him, next to the door. He climbed the shelves, dirt clinging desperately to his hands, and he withdrew the camera from his messenger bag. As he set his camera on the top shelf, he felt like he was being watched. Several times he looked behind his back, to find no one. He pressed the power button and climbed back down. As he did, a thin, dark book fell off the one of the shelves. Jasper looked down at the little book curious. It was covered in dust—like everything else in the Inn. He picked it up. Neither side had a title; it was just an old, leather-bound book. He opened it to the first page to find title written in cursive, This Journal Belongs to David Stonewall. As Jasper read this, he felt the sense of being watched again. He lifted his flash light and scanned the attic. Its lucid beam landed on a door, previously unseen by Jasper, standing in an opening between two of the storage shelves on the right wall. It was simple, like the attic door. He walked over to it and, curious, and tried to unlock it—but he never got the chance to get inside it. “Help me.” Jasper looked to his left and could make out a silhouette of a slim, tall man. Jasper flashed his light towards the silhouette. It landed upon a gaunt man in a black tuxedo, with skin the color of a fluorescent light. His soot-colored hair was combed back, his large, egg-like eyes shut as if he were a small child trying to avoid looking at a monster. Or into a beam of light. “Who the hell are you?” Jasper asked, alarmed. “Help me…Help me…” gasped the Gaunt Man, his large eyes shut still, “Help me…”
“What the fu—” started Jasper, but then looked at the man’s eyes closer. They weren’t just shut. They were sewn shut with thick black thread. The sewing was crude and uneven, and looked painful. “Jesus Christ,” exhaled Jasper. “Help me…” wheezed the Gaunt Man. The man then began to stumble towards Jasper. It was slow, terrible, zombie-esque shamble—the kind that, despite its uncertain appearance, was unstoppable. Jasper backed away, still facing the Gaunt Man in terror. The Gaunt Man stopped; he pointed his face at Jasper, as if he could see him. Suddenly, his eyelids tore apart into shreds, opening to reveal a set of maggotridden, rotting cavities. The squirming larvae poured from his meaty sockets, like squirming white rice squeezed out of a sushi roll. The crimson and black hollows left behind stared at Jasper blankly; his stomach did several back flips, as if joyous at the gruesome sight. “Help me Jasper!” the Gaunt Man howled in a rasping voice that reverberated off the walls as if they had been amplified a thousand times thus by a loudspeaker. Jasper’s bones shook, as if they were shivering from some unseen gust of cold air. The Gaunt Man shuffled forward, grinding the maggots into a creamy paste on the wood floor. “Help MEEEEE!” But Jasper was gone. Long gone. He ran out the attic door, down the stairs four at a time, and slammed the door at the bottom behind him. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep, long breaths, trying to steady his nerves. He had not just seen that…He had not just seen that…he had not just seen— “Jasper?” Jasper almost flew up to the ceiling, crashing into the rotting paint and crumbling tin when he heard that voice. It was Eliza he registered a second later. He thanked God in his mind, though with a kind of bitter afterthought: But you could have done a little better, Big Man. She seemed rather disheveled from seeing Jasper explode out of the attic door. “What’s wrong Jasper? You look like…like you were being chased by something,” she said with some concern. Jasper started to babble about the Gaunt Man. “Yeahyeah, Therewasthisman, right?” Jasper said, sounding as if he had forgotten to take his Ritalin for the day, “Andhiseyeswereall, like, sewntogetherand—” “Whoa, slow down!” Eliza said putting her hands in front of her, as if to shield herself from the onslaught of words. “Now what’s the matter?” Jasper tried again, but babbled like an idiot once more. “Hiseyesweresewn—doyouhearme? SEWN! Andwhenheopenedthem—” “Never mind,” she said as she pushed him aside. “I’ll just find out myself.” She opened the door and climbed the stairs. It took Jasper a second to compute was happening around him. A gear finally spun and he made the connection. “No, wait!” he said as he raced after her. But she made it to the top first; he made it up there second, and was right behind Eliza as she looked around, unimpressed. “See, nothing,” she said in a calming tone as she scanned the attic with her flashlight. “Look, there’s your flashlight.” She pointed her flashlight at the floor where his was. She went over and crouched down to pick it up; Jasper followed, and all-but-hit the
ceiling again when looked to where the man once was. His scream sounded almost feminine. “What? What?!” Eliza asked with anger and fright as she bolted back up that instant, flashing her light in every direction. Jasper pointed, horrified, toward the silhouette. Eliza pointed the beam at the shadow. It was life-size dummy. “So, what, are we scared of dolls now?” taunted Eliza. The doll was dressed in a black tuxedo. It had black, combed-back hair. Its eyes were shut and for extra detail, someone added black eyelashes. “Creepy,” She said and thrust the flashlight into Jasper’s chest. She strutted out of the room, proudly. Eliza: 5, Jasper: 1. Jasper barely caught the flashlight before it hit the floor. He followed her back out and, looking over his shoulder, closed the door to the attic. The last thing he saw was the unopened door. When he finally passed through that door, Eliza would be in grave danger.
“I’m telling you, I saw a guy,” said Jasper as he walked alongside Eliza, down the left hall of floor C. Jasper had pulled himself back together after his experience with the Gaunt Man in the attic—that what he was beginning to fear now: he was having his experiences again. In the panic that was that experience (like most of the others), his mind, for a few minutes, seemed to have walked off on him, leaving his emotions and instincts to pick up the reins. It almost as if, after evaluating the complexity of the situation it was in, his mind said, Screw this; I’m outta here. You guys deal with it. Although his appearance was nowhere near pleasant, it wasn’t the Gaunt Man’s rattling wheeze of a voice or his putrid eyes (or lack thereof) that had really scared Jasper. No, it was the expression on his face—a twisted, contorted mask of pain and suffering—that had really chilled him. Just remembering the whole ordeal made icy, unseen fingers caress his back. “Oh, stop being so melodramatic. You just saw that creepy-ass doll and freaked out,” Eliza said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if explaining to a small child that the boogeyman in their closet wasn’t real. “That's all.” “But he—it—talked to me,” Jasper replied, trying to defend himself. “Oh, please! You just imagined it,” she retorted. By now, they had reached the end of the hall and were at the doors that led to the ballroom. “Now, can we please move on?” she said as she opened the door. “I guess…” replied Jasper. He still wanted to get at the root of who the man was, and how Jasper could help him—if he could at all. “Good.” And with that, they descended the stairs down to the ballroom. When they reached the bottom and entered the room, Jasper said, “So just how many cameras have you set up?”
“Twelve,” Jasper’s jaw dropped—mentally, at least. Twice the number of his cameras, and they had sound. Unless he could find a way to hack into her computer soon, he would soon have to quit; with that much coverage, she would have enough evidence to get the money, hands-down (plus his salary, with his luck). Eliza: 6, Jasper: 1, Eliza wins by a landslide. Game Over. “How about you?” “Er…six.” She turned around at him and laughed. “Six?” scoffed she, “That’s it?” “Well…in fact, I’m getting more soon.” Very soon, thought Jasper in the back of his head, already formulating a strategy to commit the act of thievery. “Good luck with finding places to put them,” she said. Her smugness had been rubbed into Jasper’s face; its stench reminded him of the septic tank that used to overflow at the house where he and his mother lived before they moved in with Grandpa Dean. Bonus Point to Eliza. “Yeah…” he conceded in a whisper. No point in trying to start another fight; not now, when the images of the man in the attic were still imprinted in his memory with great clarity, and his emotions might do God-knows-what. By now, they had reached the double doors that lead to the waiting room outside the ballroom. From there, they descended the stairs to floor A. When they reached the bottom, Eliza saw the cameras. “Oh, I see the difference,” said Eliza, clawing at other chance to piss off Jasper, “Between the cameras, I mean. I got the red set and you got the blue set.” Jasper just grunted in reply. “Yeah I saw those. They have no sound input. My red ones do, of course.” Once again, Jasper just grunted, seemingly without interest—seemingly. They reached their rooms and entered—no further words were exchanged. The laptop sat there on the desk in Jasper’s room, closed to save battery power. Jasper sat down in a creaking chair, opened it, and accessed the camera software. A window popped up and showed a loading screen, depicting one of its cameras with a zoomed in image that showed a ghostlike being in the reflection of the lens. Below it, the name GhostCam below it in bold, wavy, glowing font. After it loaded, six boxes popped up on the screen, each a smaller depiction of the input from each camera. Below each box, the name and code (which consisted of eight letters and numbers), 1 User and sound or no sound was written. All, of course, had no sound below them. Nevertheless, it relived Jasper a bit when he found out that the software was compatible with Eliza’s camera system—and that all of his cameras worked properly. Jasper looked at the grid of boxes. Camera 1 showed outside Jasper’s door. He clicked on it. He tested the camera’s thermal and night filters, which worked fine—if a bit grainy. A little scope in the bottom right hand corner gave an electromagnetic reading. He checked Cameras 2-5, all of which worked fine as well. When he got to Camera 6—the one in the attic—he didn’t click it just yet. He hated to find anything after just recovering from his experience; but, after working up the courage, he clicked the box. The attic was as he and Eliza left it: empty. Just the shelves and boxes and thick dust. He checked night vision. A clearer, green, gray and black image replaced the dank
one. Nothing so far—no movement, no shapes. He checked thermal. The room itself was cool, but other than that, normal. Everything was normal. All quiet on the western front, Jasper thought gloomily. He thought about the Gaunt Man, with his eyes sewn shut. His horrible, pleading moans for help. His pale skin and lank frame. His eyes, though, were the worse of his physical features—aside from the Halloween mask of a face he wore, the expression of unfathomable pain. Set deep in their sockets, with purplish rings beneath them, his eyes—or eye cavities, rather—told a story of many long nights and early mornings. He thought of JC—his black hair and cavernous sockets. Like the Gaunt Man. His name, blue eyes and black hair—like Jasper himself. And there they were: JC, the Gaunt Man, and Jasper Garrison; three people with similar characteristics; perhaps because they were just one. Jasper felt a chilling sense of déjà vu drop over him like a crashing wave. And the sense that he himself might be doomed to the fate of the Gaunt Man. He noticed the time on the laptop; it was 3:47 P.M. Jasper realized that Eliza would have to leave soon, if she was to check into the motel on time. So that left him plenty of time to access her laptop. As long as she didn’t take it with her. The pitter-patter of rain began to drum on the Inn. About five minutes later, Jasper saw Eliza leaving on Camera 1, hearing her close her door. She didn’t have her laptop, and appeared to be in quite the hurry. Lucky me, he thought, watching her leave on his laptop. Jasper snuck down to the lobby moments later, although it did no good; the stairs still creaked their warning cries at Eliza: Come back! Come back! He’s trying to steal your cameras! He made it to a window beside the double doors and could barely make out Eliza leaving in her Chevelle, the blurry, spectral orbs of her crimson taillights trailing away. The skies were dark, and Jasper heard a bass drumroll of thunder. The gentle rapping soon gained weight and tempo, sounding as if billions of ball bearings were bombarding the Inn with a steady thud-thud-thud. A defiant roar of thunder filled the sky again, this time louder. A huge storm had started outside the Inn—and, unknown to Jasper and Eliza, one inside, as well. When the thunderheads would clear and the spiteful lash of lightning fade away, one of these two storms would claim a life. Jasper, out of the corner of his eye, saw something; he turned, the gray box on the wall being the target of his peripheral vision. Behind the clerk’s front desk, the main breaker was mounted on the wall, the worn red-and-beige sticker featuring a pale lightning bolt against a bloody backdrop. He went around the desk and walked up to it; the sticker, it seemed, barely clung to the tin crate. He opened the breaker box to find a list of names with a bulb on its left, and switch on the right: • • • • • Lobby Floor A Ballroom Floor C Attic
Jasper studied this list and then flipped the lobby switch, expecting nothing to happen; the lights, though, flickered on in the lobby, defying Jasper. He had reckoned that the lines were down, or at least taken down; he didn’t see any on his way to Steadfast to indicate the opposite. And, even then, CMP would have disconnected the power; but, there again, Steadfast was on no map Jasper could find, so perhaps Central Maine Power didn’t even know if there was a connection out here. Unlikely, but nonetheless possible. He flipped the switch entitled floor A; even from the poor angle of the clerk’s main desk, Jasper could see the light from the hall of floor A. Jasper left the others off— there was no need to light up the entire Inn. Ghosts are more apt to appear in darkness for their own, odd reasons; Professor Dove never explained why to Jasper, nor had he ever wondered why until now. It was a good question to ask him the next time they met—if they ever did. Jasper left the gray box closed and jogged back up the stairs. The lighting on floor A had not help its image of decline, its deteriorated state. If anything, it magnified it: the gossamer webs of spiders were all the more visible as they clung to the nooks and crannies; the dust that coated all surfaces seemed thicker than Jasper had originally thought; the warped, worn boards seemed even more warped and worn. Jasper hurried into his room and pawed through his luggage for a scrap of paper. He found the receipt he had received with supper the night previous and stuck his key in his jacket pocket. This is when he felt the old diary; he pulled it out and examined it. The small, old book was tattered, its white pages now yellowed, tough leather now frail and musty. It felt like an extremely old creature in his hands—like a bird who has lived too many years beyond its time—and that the slightest mishap would kill it. He stuck the diary back in his pocket. He had no intentions of going back up to the attic anytime soon, just to return a book. Even if all he was having was an experience—even if what he saw wasn’t truly there—he wished to do it again as much as he would having his nails pulled from his fingers. He tried to remember what people were called if they had experiences; it was on the tip of his tongue, but Jasper left that matter for later. He had to get into Eliza’s laptop—and quickly, for she would soon remember that she had forgotten it. Jasper crossed the hall and unlocked Eliza’s door. He entered, and found the room to be similar to his—as if the layout of his room had been mirrored onto hers. Room A7 was the same size as A8; dust-blanketed sheets covered all the furniture, except for the desk of which her incased laptop was positioned, as if poised for travel. The bed was made, but untouched. The floors were swept. A duplicate of the painting over the desk in Jasper’s room hung above Eliza’s, almost as if it were guarding her laptop. And, yet again, the Blue-Eyed Elk stared down upon Jasper, wanting to disembowel him with his royal antlers any second now. He walked over to the desk and took the laptop out of its case. Jasper lifted the screen, and, to his fortune, it was all ready on. In fact, the GhostCam program was open, her twelve camera boxes all on the screen with their codes right there for the taking. As
he took out his receipt and got ready scribbled down the codes, they suddenly disappeared. All the boxes went blank; Cameras 1 through 12 had a green refresh symbols on them. “Shit,” Jasper said. As he waited for the cameras to synchronize and retag themselves, he did not know that Eliza was on her way back.
“The GhostCam phenomena-capturing camera system,” the manual to the aforementioned program reads, (if Jasper had actually read it), “Works like this: each camera has its own, individual code, or Tag. These Tags are printed onto a list that comes with your GhostCam setup, as well as being printed on the cameras themselves.” (Jasper had considered just stealing codes like this, but figured Eliza would have caught him). “Each camera all ready has this Tag programmed into it and sends it out as part of its regular transmission. Then, these Tags can be uploaded to the computer after the receiver box is connected. With the aid of this receiver box, the computer searches for these Tags. “When it locates one, it makes a wireless video connection with the camera, which has to be refreshed each time the computer is shut down, or when the program is quit out of. The receiver box, which is enabled with a limited flash drive, will be able to hold several hours compressed video data, until the computer is rebooted, or the program accessed again, and transfers it from the receiver box’s drive. Laptop users will find that closing or sending the computer into “Sleep” or “Standby” modes will need to wait for the cameras to refresh, as well.”
The cameras synched one by one, giving up their Tags as if they were treasure of some kind, like rare jewels or unique coins. Jasper made it to Camera 7 before he saw a person go by Camera 1. She stopped either to admire the lights or to wonder why they were on; most likely both. That was as far as Jasper got; he slammed the screen down—a bit too hard, really—and left the room in a hurry. He, however, forgot to put Eliza’s computer back into its case. Jasper crossed the narrow hall, oblivious to his blunder, and heard squeaking footfalls upon the stairs. He flew into his room, closing his door behind him; his heart pounded in his ears, his mouth was dry, his stomach danced the cha-cha, doing dips with his gastrointestinal tract. He, eventually, calmed himself down, slowed his breathing, and sat down at the desk. He opened back up his own laptop and waited for the camera Tags to synchronize. It took a few seconds for the first camera to synch, and soon Jasper saw Eliza in minia-
ture on his screen. He watched as she unlocked the door, holding a large duffle bag in one hand; she swung the door open, and entered. For a moment, she was gone—swallowed by the darkness of her room—and then she was back out without her duffle bag. She closed the door, turned, and looked up at Jasper’s camera. She waved, as if to let him to know to open the door. He got up, did just that, and saw that her coat was drenched with rain. “Why are all the lights on?” Eliza asked. “Or, more importantly, how?” Her hair was dark with wetness, and she wore an unpleasant expression on her face. Although she wore a jacket, Eliza’s shirt was still soaked, clinging tightly to her body. Somewhere in the deep, ID-dominated sector of his mind, this registered as sexy. Jasper’s Egodominated section of his mind, though, thought she looked like a cat that had just been given a bath. “What, you can’t say‘ hello?’” he retorted, ignoring the irrational attraction, embracing the wet cat idea. “Oh, please,” she shot back, waving an apathetic hand, “Now, how are these lights on?” “I found the breaker down in the lobby,” Jasper said, “It was behind the main desk. I’m amazed that these lights work.” “Really?” Eliza said, looking up at the light in the floor A hallway. “And are you trying to burn the place down?” She looked back at him. “Yes,” Jasper said, then replied, “Are you trying to ruin my life? I thought you left.” “I did, but I forgot my computer,” she said, “I wanted to get back to town before the storm started—it came on so sudden, you know. Besides, I forgot some stuff at the motel.” “Forgetful, are we?” Jasper said, “You know, they have a name for that: Alzheimer’s.” “Shut up,” Eliza said, though the scoreboard was changing, now. Eliza: 6, Jasper: 2. “And, anyway, its coming down hard out there.” “As I deduced,” Jasper said, looking at her soaked hair and jacket. Another boom of thunder exploded above them like a mortar round; lightning flashed outside the windows in Jasper’s room like an flash-bang explosion. The rain started to grow heavier, bullets assailing the Inn. It rapped against the windows, thanks to a gusting wind that whistled outside and through cracks in the Inn. The building seemed to grow colder, just then, and both Jasper and Eliza felt a kind of remorse—a quick wave of sadness. Then it was gone. “So, why were you down there?” said Eliza after a long moment, who had been entranced the raging storm outside; Jasper had also been listening in a sort of horrified awe. The thought occurred to him that if it grew any worse, the storm would destroy the Inn. And them. “Huh? Oh…was, uh, seeing if there was any places down there I could put my new shipment of cameras,” he replied, off guard by the sudden questioning, “But I guess
there aren’t any good places. And I can’t get back to the motel, now, anyway, for the order.” “Okay,” Eliza said, in a rather awkward way. She had been expecting a different answer. She now seemed stiff. “I guess I’ll get back into my room and wait until the storm passes. The road is too slippery.” She left, closing the door. Jasper went back to his laptop and pulled up the Camera 1, no sound box and watched it. Eliza looked around, and closed her door—Jasper felt something, looking at her again, but he didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was concern. Maybe guilt. Maybe his ID. Maybe. Jasper closed out of the camera, and looked at all the other camera boxes. Nothing. His eyes looked over in the top-right-hand corner of the screen and saw the battery life; 72%—this worried Jasper. He would have to plug into a source soon; if he didn’t, then he would lose his cameras. Jasper closed his laptop for now—he would later upload the codes, but first he wanted to read the old leather diary. He didn’t know why, per se, but just assumed it was curiosity. He flipped past the first page, entitled Journal of David Stonewall, Manager of the Cavalier Inn, and started to read the first entry. Date: October 7, 1918 Dear Journal, Today is my first day as manger of the Cavalier Inn. I’m ecstatic over idea of having control of such a prestigious resort—it may very well beat the Hilton or the RitzCarlton. When I first arrived, the groundskeepers were mowing the lawn and tending to the large hedge maze—a maze of such gigantic proportions must be hard to maintain, the condition it is in. The Inn, as many others and I have now come to know it as, is large beyond reason for this area and so beautiful. The front door—which they just installed today—is a magnificent carving of nature. It is such a beautiful piece of work, imported from Ireland—or so Mr. Cavalier maintains. There is a veranda on the second floor, which consists of only the ballroom and kitchen. The lobby has a lounge, bar, large chandelier, and pay phones. Yes, pay phones! And there’s electricity and running water—all the way out here! A double staircase leads from the lobby to floor A, where I found my room, A8— Jasper felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. A8? My room? Why did he choose this man’s room? Jasper pushed the thought away for now; he continued… —My room, which I am in right now, is the largest room on floor A, save for the room across the hall, where Linda Johnston, the head of cleaning and maintenance, is situated. I met her this afternoon, and I must say that I don’t care for the woman that much. She is rather catty at times, and I have gotten wind that her children are going to be living with us. As if we need kids running around here! But, I digress.
The most interesting thing that happened today was when I heard about this building’s past. Obliviously, some accidents have transpired in the construction of this opulent resort. A crew of men was lost when they were felling trees for the road—rather odd for five men to go missing like that. Out of thin air. Mr. Cavalier, asked if I didn’t want the job, and I replied, “But why, sir?” And he said, “Well, I didn’t know if you were superstitious. Some people are.” “Well I’m not, sir. I mean, this is a great job. Why would I believe that something is wrong, like the building is cursed? Pshaw!” I replied. Honestly! Cursed! The pay he is offering me is extraordinary, and I’ll need it for Ma and Pa’s procedure they need. Emily says they get worse everyday. Anyway… “Well, that’s very good, Mr. Stonewall,” he replied, and that’s all he said. He shook my hand and left about five minutes later. He is a rather curious fellow—into many eccentric things. Always smiles and laughs a lot. It scares some of the people here, to be truthful. I just think he’s a character; the way things are in the world, I say we need more laughers. Other than that, I’ve spent most of the day getting situated in my office. It is located behind the front desk; the door even has my name put on it in bold letters, ‘Mr. David Stonewall, Manager’. The office is very large, much like my room. On my desk in there, I found an envelope. In it, there was a floor plan for the entire Inn, and a skeleton key with a note tied to it. It read: ‘This key will open any door in the Inn. Don’t lose it. -Mr. Cavalier Mr. Cavalier didn’t sign his first name, for some reason. Rather peculiar, honestly. Well, that’s all that has happened today, and I believe I won’t have much time in the weeks ahead to write in this journal, seeing as though I will direct management of the Inn. Jasper closed the diary, opened his laptop, waited for the cameras to synchronize and checked them for recent activity. Nothing. He sat there and thought about the strange coincidence of having David’s room. Just coincidence, he thought, though with some species of doubt lurking in the back of his mind. Jasper felt he had been drawn here to do something. Help me… “I’ll try,” Jasper said. With nothing left to do, he started to add Eliza’s cameras—the seven he had gotten, anyway—to his own. As he entered her codes one by one, he saw the word sound appearing below the cameras. When he finished, he sat back and looked at all thirteen of his cameras. Jasper noticed his hunger growling in his stomach—he hadn’t eaten all day. He pulled out two pre-made sandwiches and a Coke. He ate the sandwiches—which both had a very plasticky, less-than-fresh taste to them—drank the soda, and felt much better. It, after all, had been a very long day.
Jasper could feel sleep tugging at his eyelids soon afterward; his mind drifted in and out of consciousness. He closed his laptop and stumbled over to the bed—he hadn’t slept very well as of late, either. Pulling off the blanket, he was thankful that the bed underneath wasn’t filthy. In fact, it was quite clean; it smelled as if it had been recently washed. He plummeted down onto the bed, exhausted. The bed was extremely soft; the downy was very luxurious, and didn’t feel rotten, as one might have suspected. Somewhere deep within his mind, a truthful little cog turned and told him he had to stay up—had to be awake to watch for activity, had to stay awake to stay ALIVE. But he ignored it; he was too tired. Sleep—spawned from exhaustion, or maybe something else—soon overtook him.
He was outside, at night—the air was cold and crisp. The stars in the sky shone like diamonds upon a navy tapestry. The moon was a pitted, glowing orb amongst these diamonds, a— Seeing Glass —sphere made of chipped glass. It was dark, but the moon and stars gave him enough light to see a small figure sitting in the middle of a clearing beside the well. This was more than a clearing, it seemed—in fact, it was more of an arena; a Colosseum of a sort. He felt as if he was being watched as he walked closer to the well. The small figure soon became a small girl in a white dress—she was no more than seven or eight. Turned away from him, locks of sandy hair flowed down from her head. She appeared to be playing with a doll. He and crouched down to her level, and said, “Hello there,” he said, “My name’s Jasper. Who are you?” The little girl didn’t reply—she just continued to play with her doll. “I said, what’s your name?” Jasper reached out with his hand, spun her around and his heart stopped. Whether literally or mentally, he had yet to find out. The girl’s pale face stared up at Jasper with bloody eyes. Her irises and pupils were the same color: black. Dark gashes ran along her face: circles around her eyes, triangle around her thin nose, lines following her jaw line, short lines along her lips that seemed to follow her teeth…all seeping a crimson liquid. Obsidian tears ran down her face from her eyes, bulging so obscenely it disrupted his stomach. Purple and brownyellow rings surrounded them. Jasper stood up at once and began to stumble backwards—Escape, Escape, Escape his heart thudded, suddenly operational. The girl got up and held out her free arm, shambling towards Jasper, fingers outstretched. She clutched her rag doll with her other arm; it was filthy and weatherworn, red stitches along its face. The Rag-Doll Girl blinked and he saw that more intricate lines had been carved into her eyelids—these were lighter, but still visible. A gush of blood poured from her eyes once she blinked.
Jasper looked behind himself. A black void framed by dark green walls gaped behind him. Jasper couldn’t—wouldn’t—go into that void. Things far worse lurked there, he knew. Somehow. He stumbled on something—a root or the twisted limb of a corpse, he could not tell. The Rag-Doll Girl was on top of Jasper before he could try to scurry away. She grabbed his head and pulled him towards her, hand frigid, close enough to bite Jasper in the nape of his neck. He tried to struggle, but his muscles wouldn’t listen; a paralyzing drug had been injected into him, a drug named Fear. The girl stared at Jasper with black, hemorrhaging eyes. “Help us Jasper,” She rasped in her once-cute, petite voice, her mouth splitting open from the cuts in her cheeks, those cuts ending at the hinge of her jaw. A stench of purification and death wafted from the Rag-Doll Girl’s mouth, several shiny, black beetles crawling out of her throat, scuttling around her face or falling upon Jasper’s. They began to tear into his flesh with spindly mandibles, like drops of acid on his cheeks. She wheezed, “Help all of us.”
Eliza entered the room. She looked around it once, as she had beforehand, appearing the same as she had left it. Nothing askew, nothing missing. She closed the door, pulled off her drenched leather jacket and hung it on the back of the chair. That’s when Eliza saw that the laptop had been left out of its case. She sat down, opened it—not aware of the gravity of what the caseless computer meant—and looked at camera program. All the cameras had sound and showed video input from around the Inn, then began to refresh. After several minutes of watching them reload, the last camera synced, and all the data was displayed. She watched the cameras for what seemed many hours. When nothing new happened, she decided to shut it down—everything she was taught told her not to; that things get more and more active as the night wore on—but she decided against staying up further. She now felt very sleepy, and, as the manual had said, the receiver box would hold several hours of compressed video before she had to dump it on her computer. Her watch told her it was 9:53, and her feelings of exhaustion agreed with the time, perhaps agreed a little too willingly. So she got up, whipped off the sheet on the bed, flipped the light switch, and laid down on the mattress. She had expected the smell of must and dust—the odor of a catacomb—to spew up from the bed. But no such scent reached her nostrils; instead, the mattress had a clean, down feel to it, and she soon faded into sleep… Eliza bolted upright.
Looking around, she saw the door to the bathroom was ajar, yellow light flooding into her room. The door stood next to the chairs and the sheet-covered furniture across the room from the bed. Eliza hopped of the bed and walked into the bathroom. Opening the door slightly to slip in, she saw the bathroom was nothing like the rest of the Inn. In fact, it was pristine. White tile gleamed, reflecting the yellow light from the overhead bulb. To Eliza’s left was a sink with a medicine cabinet; a mirrored door reflected the toilet. Straight ahead of her, a tub-shower sat. Translucent curtains covered the tub and everything else behind it. Here a girl, there a girl. Eliza walked to it, grabbed onto the curtain and thought something would spring out. She wanted to stop, but it was too late; she pulled back the curtain, and in the tub, there was…nothing. It was as white as the rest of the bathroom—spotless. She let out a sigh of relief—she didn’t even know why she had been so scared in the first place. She turned around—composed—and looked into the gray, semi-opaque eyes that had been behind her. Eliza stopped, frozen. From behind her, the tub faucet and the shower head turned on at the simultaneously, red fluid that wasn’t quite blood spraying out from them, staining the white tub’s pristine bowl. It began to fill. The gray eyes belong to a decrepit woman, her skin waterlogged, wrinkly, sagging, and the color of ash. Blue-green veins snaked their way under her skin, like worms feasting on her innards. Her soaked hair was a pale strawberry-blonde. Eliza now noticed that the water that dripped off the woman’s locks was red, like the fluid that had almost filled the tub, which was filling at an unnatural rate. Eliza now noticed that the woman was naked. Her body was much like her face; wrinkled, wan, and sickly loose on her body. Her ribs protruded; her breasts sagged. She looked as though she had been starved after having a major liposuction conducted. Her wrists were cut deeply, frayed network of broken veins visible in the red meat that was her forearm muscles. Bone, dun it color, was visible in places. The woman opened her mouth, her gums a sallow olive-green, teeth blackish-gray with rot. Eliza was frozen in place, her face colorless. “Help them,” the woman said as the tub began to overfill. The red liquid—which looked like Kool-Aid— Tropical Punch, Oh Yeah! —now that Eliza thought about it—splashed onto the floor, staining the grout and tile. “Help my babies!” Her voice rasped shrilly, a unique fusion of elderly woman and insane-asylum dweller. She thrust Eliza back towards the overflowing tub of sanguine water with surprising force. It was as though the woman was a bodybuilding champion, and she was the skinny beach twerp. Eliza flipped over the rim of the tub, splashed, and kept on sinking, sinking, sinking, as though the tub had become a bottomless sea. A blood-red sea, in which she was drowning.
Eliza’s screams awoke Jasper from his own nightmare. His eyes snapped open; he felt clothes drenched with cold, sticky sweat. His breathing was rapid, and he could easily seem plumes of mist coming from his mouth in the frigid room. The screams that had awoken him were close—so close. He thought of Eliza and sprung out of bed, grabbing his key. His heart raced, pumping cool blood throughout his system all ready sufficiently cool system. He threw open the door and the screams were closer still; they were indeed coming from across the hall, in room A7. Jasper unlocked the door and swung it open. The room was pitch-black and now that the door was open, the screams were even louder, less muffled. He fumbled for the switch inside the room, found it, and flipped it up. He half-expected to seem some monster to be on top of Eliza, torturing her with long, yellow claws—or, worse yet, the BlueEyed Elk, disemboweling her with his regal antlers. “You want some too, Caspy?” the beast would snort, purple bowels hanging like blood-soaked party streamers from his crown, “Well, just let me finish up Lizzy here, and then you’ll have plenty, and then you will die, and she will die, and all is for naught, and we’ll all be dead here in the lovely, five-star Cavalier Inn, ha-ha-ha-ha.” Jasper felt as if he was going to puke. He entered, and to his right, Eliza was writhing and screaming on the bed. Yet no elk with a singular blue eye tortured her, nor a less threatening beast with yellow claws. It was just her. He, although relived somehow, raced over to her and shook her awake, halflying on top of her bosom. She stopped in mid-scream and stared blankly at Jasper. “Huh?… What—?” she started. Her eyes were so blank they seemed dead. For a split-second Jasper believed she actually was dead—the Blue-Eyed Elk had got her, the bastard, he had got her, and now he was next, he was next. But then he realized she was alive, the Bastard Elk hadn’t got her yet, her bosom was rising and lowering slowly, firmer then looser against his chest. Jasper was calmed by the fact that she hadn’t died. Instantly, instinctively, she embraced him; Jasper didn’t refuse, and both forgot previous, petty disputes. “Wha…What hap…happened?” Eliza panted, backing away from him, now seeming rather awkward. “You were having a nightmare,” Jasper said as he got off the bed, trying not to be to gauche. “I…I guess so…” she breathed. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, and held her head with her right hand. “It was so…terrible.” “Do you want to talk about it?” Jasper asked. Eliza seemed to consider it; and for a moment, she almost seemed to say ‘yes,’ but didn’t. “No…Never mind…” Eliza said. It was almost as if she were embarrassed to say it.
“Well…If you’re sure…” Jasper trailed of and began to exit the room when Eliza said, “Do you believe we can help them? The spirits, I mean.” Jasper looked at her. “Do you?” Jasper seemed to ignore the fact that she had been doubting his own experience the previous day. “I…” She paused, “I don’t know…all this time I’ve—we’ve—spent learning about them. Yet no one tells us if we can help them, and…I don’t know if we can.” “We can always try,” Jasper said, and their eyes met. Jasper felt it again—that same pang of mysterious, mixed emotions he had felt when he saw her enter her room earlier. It had a deep, low, almost inaudible reverberation within his mind, like a bass drum being struck in an empty hall. This time, the bass drum was louder than it had been, closer, the feeling stronger, as if underscored by her green eyes. Yet, Jasper managed to push it away. Eventually. “Because if we don’t,” Jasper continued, “Then why do we even bother to do what we do?” Jasper then left the room, leaving Eliza to ponder his words, and entered his room. Could they be helped, though? How could you help people who were all ready dead? And if you could, what was the point of being a parapsychologist in the first place? As he thought about this, he finally looked at his watch. 5:23 was the time that it told him. He thought about the bed and sleep. But he pushed those thoughts aside, like the mixed emotions he had felt for Eliza. He didn’t want another freak to add to this three-ringed circus; a new main attraction between the Gaunt Man and Rag-Doll Girl. If anything, he knew things would get worse with sleep. Yet he wanted to sleep—he wanted to so bad. It was as if sleep was a passionate lover, and had worn him out over the course of the night, yet still begged for one more round; just one more. Jasper wouldn’t give one more, and instead sat at the desk in front of his laptop. There was nothing to do—it was too early to monitor the cameras. There would be no activity this late in the night, or, actually, early in the morning. Outside he heard the storm thundering in the distance, the reverberation dying bit by bit. The light of dawn began to illuminate the room with warm-toned light, though just barely—the sun was fighting an uphill (and losing) war for dominance of the sky with the mountains. Pinks, reds, and oranges made the peaks of the mountain appear to be on fire. A frontal assault by Helios. To Jasper, the time he spent waiting awake was like Hell—or at least some form of it. His head throbbed with a headache that went through his skull like a jagged blade, twisting and grinding around. His vision was blurry and eyelids heavy; several times, he drowsed away, but forced himself awake. His watch read 7:27 and he realized how hungry he really was—two sandwiches and a Coke over the past twenty-four hours didn’t amount to much. He grabbed his bag off the floor and pulled out something to eat. What he pulled out was a bottle of water and two sticky buns in plastic wrap.
The water wetted down his throat and hit his empty stomach with a rather discomforting splash, still leaving an empty feeling. He ate the first sticky bun, which stuck to roof of his mouth, thanks to its very sweet frosting and gooey dough, and then drank some more. The water soothed his headache somewhat, but the sugar of the sticky bun soon conquered those feelings of relief. Jasper put away the other bun and drained the bottle. He rummaged around in his bag and found a Granny Smith. The skin on it was a glossy, bright green that shone even in the dim light of the room. He rubbed it on his shirt and began to eat it. It was sweet, juicy, and crisp. He ate it—relished it—until there was nothing left but a skinny core. He tossed it old wicker wastebasket that stood beside the desk—it joined the water bottle, sticky bun, sandwich wrappers and Coke can. The basket wobbled from the force of the apple striking it. Yet, Jasper was still hungry. He rummaged around some more and found a box of Pop-Tarts. He opened on the foil-covered packages and ate one. To Jasper, they seemed not so appealing—even gross—untoasted. Somewhat sugary and chalky, they were hardly satisfying. At last, however, his stomach was appeased enough and he got up. He looked out the window and saw the hedge maze. It was huge, a masterpiece by its own complexity. Jasper could not see where it ended—not even the middle of it. The path twisted, turned and snaked through the jungle of ivy. Right angles everywhere he looked on it—barely a single straightaway. What was even more amazing was the lone fact that it hadn’t overgrown much at all. It was as if a gardener or caretaker had trimmed it occasionally—perhaps not weekly, but bi-monthly, at the very least. Jasper turned away from the window. Today he would leave for Goff Falls to buy some more food and get a real meal. Something more than a goddamn Poptart.
Eliza spent the morning wide awake—even drowsiness seemed to have left her. The fear of seeing the woman in another nightmare chilled her. The horror on that woman’s face, her rotten flesh, opaque eyes…the thought made her shiver. Her watch told her of a more reasonable time to leave several hours later, even though she saw no sunlight through her window. 7:30, and still no sunlight; it was both odd and frightening. She decided it was time to leave. Just leave it all behind, cameras and all. But, the thought that came to her next was one that caused further problems: the money. Thirty grand. So much, it made her head swim. And now, she was the rope in a tug of war—either deal with these nightmares and get the money, or, run away, scared, penniless, her sanity somewhat intact. These two opposing sides tugged and pulled, yanked and heaved, but money won in the end.
She needed it. Without it, she might as well give up on her dreams and work for Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. This was the money she needed to stay in business. Do or die. Sane or insane. But she still had to leave. She needed a hot meal—she had not eaten anything since last night, a cold salad kept in a lunch cooler—and to sort out some business with the motel. Namely, her things she had forgotten; for all she knew, they could have thrown out all her stuff. She would also have to grab some food just for today and tomorrow—hopefully she would have enough proof by then, hopefully enough proof to put all of this behind her. Hopefully.
A Horrific Past
Jasper and Eliza almost collided when they left, opening their doors in nearunison, neither paying attention as they walked out. But, before they hit, Jasper stopped in a split second. Eliza didn’t notice; she just walked past him. They left the building, neither talking nor seeing each other eye-to-eye. Both had preoccupied minds; no time for talking, no time for races. They entered their old cars and then drove off to Goff Falls. As they left the valley, cruising over the last knoll, each felt a strange weight lifting off their bodies—an eerie pressure dissipating. They reached the town and went their separate ways. Eliza to the motel, Jasper to the grocery store—Callaghan’s. Jasper strolled through the store, the serene, dull music playing in the background over the intercom speakers. His face was haggard, darkness under his eyes, his clothes rather unpleasant in fragrance. Several of the townsfolk—a wiry man in a brown sweater, and fat lady with her toddling daughter, an elderly couple with equally vanishing hair— eyed him suspiciously. Jasper, ignoring the other shoppers, pushed the metal cart across the linoleum floor, one wheel squealing acutely and jittering. He passed many shelves of assorted items—chips, canned goods, alcohol (something Jasper thought might help his predicament), toiletries, et cetera, et cetera. The usual fare. He bought some more items, including a box of cereal and some sandwich supplies—he was done dealing with the disgusting, pre-made sandwiches—a foam cooler and bag of ice to keep the sandwich supplies and other foodstuffs fresh. Jasper paid the cashier—a rather chubby woman with mousy brown hair—and left. It was while he paid that he realized how low on money he was; Afterwards, he had forty-five dollars and some change. Just enough for a meal or two. Maybe. Jasper left the store and packed his supplies in the trunk of his car. He started it with a grumble—both verbally and mechanically—and drove away.
Eliza’s fears were correct. She got out of her Chevelle and walked towards the main office, noticing how much brighter it was here in Goff Falls. The sun had a substantially easy battle here; the mountains weren’t nearly as high as they were in Steadfast, the valley not as deep. At the clerk’s desk, Eliza saw as she entered, a teenage girl with blonde hair was reading a copy of Entertainment Weekly. Eliza walked towards the desk; the girl glanced up from her magazine, raising an eyebrow at Eliza. What she saw was a sleep-deprived woman with somewhat frazzled red hair. “Good mornin,” she said, and looked back down at her magazine.
“Good morning,” Eliza replied when she reached the desk, “Can I talk to the manager?” The girl continued to read her article she was reading. “And why would ya like ta speak ta him?” She said monotonously, almost condescendingly. “Well, I wasn’t able to check in the other day, and I left some of my stuff in one of the rooms,” Eliza said, “Is there any way that I can get my things?” The girl looked up from her magazine once again. “Ya can try yur luck, but I think that Murray has already gotten rid of the stuff left in the rooms.” She then pressed a button on a phone. It lay on the desk to Eliza’s right. “Murray,” the girl said, “You’ve got someone that wants ta talk ta ya.” A deep, staticky voice came from the phone. “Sure, send ‘em in,” ‘Sure’ sounded like ‘Shoah’. The girl let off the button. “Okay, just go down ta the end of the hall and ta the right.” The girl said this as she pointed down a hall to the left of the desk. Eliza followed her directions and went down it. At the end, on her right, a large door with the words: Manager on a brass plate stood before her. She knocked on the door. “Come in,” a muffled voice said behind the door. She entered and found herself in a large, dark room. A stucco ceiling hung high above her, the blinds drawn in the gloom. Some light still managed to seep in past the slats, however, so the room was not utterly dark. An enormous, wooden desk sat in front of the blinded windows, scuffed and worn. Behind the desk, Murray McGregor sat, hands clasped together. He had a terribly thick beard that earned him the name, ‘Black Beard’ around town (a fact unbeknownst to Eliza). His daughter called him Hagrid. His beard was similar to snare of black vines and roots sprouting from his face. Beady eyes stared out from behind his beard and thick features, his bald head shining from the dim light peeking through the blinds. He look somewhat Neanderthalian. He rose from his desk, and Eliza saw how big he really was. She thought he was maybe six feet—she didn’t know for sure. He extended a thick hand which looked as though it were the same size as Rimer’s, though a few shades lighter. “Murray McGregor,” he said in a kind, but still business-like tone, “And, yeh are?” “Eliza Chapman.” she said shaking Murray’s hand. So, this how shaking hands with a gorilla feels like,, Eliza thought, and had a hard time concealing her smile. They let go and both sat down. “Now, what can I help yeh with tuday?” he said in his deep voice. “Well,” Eliza said, “I had left some of my things in my room just the other day, but I couldn’t make it to check in. My room was eleven?” “Eleven, ya say? Gimme a minute…” Murray got up and went over to the closet. He began to rummage around. “So, why didja not make it fer Check-In?” “I’m at this time conducting an investigation,” she said, still in her chair. She thought she sounded pretentious. Like a lawyer. “What kind?” Murray replied, still in the closet. “Crim’nal?”
“Paranormal,” she said, “At the Cavalier Inn.” Murray stopped. He got out of the closet and looked at her, tiny eyes wide. “The C-Cavalieah Inn? Wh-why w-wouldja wanta be’n such-ch a place as ththat?” Murray looked distressed. “It pays good,” Eliza said, shrugging. “Are you okay?” “Oh…I’m, I’m fine…” Murray trailed, and went back to the closet, “Heah we go…” he said heaving out a suitcase and a tote bag full of books. “Those are mine,” she said instantly, reaching out. Murray handed her the suitcase, and then paused before giving her the tote bag. “Be careful,” he said. “Careful” was like “ca-ah-ful.” “What?” Eliza asked, astonished. “I said, be careful. Strange sounds ‘n’ little balls of light are da least of yur worries in the Cavalieah Inn.” It was obvious that he was nervous. “Thanks,” she said awkwardly, taking her items and exiting the office at once. She went out of the motel, packed in her belongings and drove off—this time to get breakfast. Murray came out into the office. “Hagrid, what’s the mattah?” the girl asked. “Janie.” he said, looking at her. “Sorry, Dad,” Janie said, “Now what’s the mattah?” “Nuthin,” but when Murray saw his daughter’s skeptical look, which was so much like her mother’s, “Really!” “All right,” Janie said, “It’s yur turn at the desk. I’m tired.” Murray watched the Chevelle pull out of the parking lot, and said, “Aren’t we all?”
Jasper was ravenous. As soon as he was done shopping, he was hungry again. The High Street Diner was a small shack of a diner, placed—of course—on High Street. It was a hilly road that led away from Main Street, between the Post Office and Cinema. Not far up the road, Jasper found the diner and pulled in, entering thereafter. Red barstools lined the large, long, stainless-steel bar, a few booths lining up to his left and right along the windows. Chipped metal lights hung from the ceiling, now off. Behind the bar, a bony waitress toted a pot of coffee around. She stopped at a large man in a blue flannel shirt to top off his mug. The man was hunched over the bar, reading a newspaper. “Magin that Suze!” he said to the women behind the counter, “We could gitta Wahl-Maht in town! Sez it right heah in the paypah.” “I dunno, Martey,” Suze said, Martey sounding like Mahtay, “That could mean trouble for the small businesses. Drive ‘em out, yeh know.” She saw Jasper walk over and sit down, directing her attention to him. “How can I help ya?” “Yeah,” Jasper said, stomach aching, “Whatcha’ got for breakfast?”
“Anythin; just ask,” Suze said, flipping out her notepad. “I’ll take an omelet then. Toast and bacon, please.” “Okay,” she said, then turned back to the little open window on the wall behind the bar. She clipped the piece of paper on the carousel and yelled, “Roy! We gotta ohdah!” From where Jasper sat, he heard pots clattering and somebody suddenly snapping awake. He also heard a long line of muttered (and not-so-muttered) swears. The sizzling of the skillet and griddle was the next noise Jasper heard. Jasper turned his attention away from the kitchen and looked around at the rest of the diner. Aside from Martey—who was a portly man with short, graying hair—and Suze—a middle-aged woman with fading blonde hair—only one other person was in the room. A man, sitting at far corner of the room, in a booth, reading a newspaper. He wore a plaid shirt and baseball cap. Jasper saw that he would sip from his mug at regular intervals, the paper concealing his face continuously. Jasper turned his attention back to Suze. “Could I have some coffee?” he said. “Shoah,” she replied, and poured some of the black liquid from the coffee pot into an off-white mug. She gave it to him and went back to Martey, who continued to ramble on about the ‘Wal-Maht’. A little while later—no more than ten minutes, at least—Jasper heard a thick, gruff voice say, “Order up,” Roy’s voice, though deep, had no accent, unlike Martey’s and Suze’s. Jasper saw Roy—a man with dark stubble on his hard face and bags beneath his eyes—pass out Jasper’s omelet to Suze, who then heaved the platter over to Jasper. Jasper ate the omelet like a wolf that had just captured an elusive prey after miles of tracking and pursuit, scarfing it down; both Martey and Suze stared at Jasper, astonished by how fast he was eating. Jasper, after clearing the plate in less then five minutes, sipped his coffee, relaxed, as if he had eaten at a leisurely pace. “So, wheah yah from?” Suze asked, carrying away the plate to a window, “I’ve nevah seen yur face round deez pahts.” “In fact, I’m from away,” he replied taking sip, “Carlton. Down by Bangor. Anyway, I’m here as an investigator.” “Ayuh?” Martey said, “What’s the crime?” “No crime,” Jasper said, “I’m a parapsychologist. A ghost hunter.” “Huh. Interestin. Martey, have ya evah heard of such a thing?” Martey grunted passively, enthralled again in his news. “Few people have,” Jasper replied, sipping again, “Anyway, so I’m up here on an investigation.” “What’re yeh investigatin?” she said. “The Cavalier Inn. You heard about it?” Suze went pale. She looked at Martey who had now looked up from his paper, an expression of did I just heah that right? on his face. She looked back at Jasper. “Yeah, we’ve heard of it,” she said, a bit nervously, “Why do yeh wanna be in that place? Ain’it scary?”
“I was offered a lot of money.” But is it really worth it? he now thought. Is thirty thousand enough? Maybe the Gaunt Man and Rag-Doll Girl are real, and they really need my help. No maybe to it—they are real, and need my help. And thirty grand, he knew, wouldn’t be enough for the kind of help he would need to give. He pushed the ideas away for the moment. “Well…if ya think it’s worth it…” Suze said, looking down. She stared at the red linoleum below her feet, where dust bunnies lurked under the bar. “Is there something I need to know?” Jasper said in an almost hysterical, nervous tone. He sounded like a man who did not know he was diagnosed with a terminal illness in a conference room filled with diagnosticians. He looked between Suze and Martey, who were silent. Roy was the one who spoke up. “Go to the library,” he said in his gruff voice, “You’ll find out whatcha need there.” He looked at Jasper with his tired eyes. Everyone in the room, in fact, looked at Roy…beside the man with the newspaper. “What do you mean?” Jasper asked. “Nuthin’, Roy means—” Suze interjected, but was cut off by Roy. “Just go to the library. You’ll find out just why they’re so scared.” Roy nodded to Suze and Martey. “I really don’t care. It’s all just superstition. Bullshit.” Suze and Martey looked between one another, looked at Roy, knowing that what Roy had said would open a Pandora’s Box of hellish ramifications. It was that time again, and what Roy had just said sealed his fate. Maybe all of theirs. “Thanks,” Jasper said, paying for his breakfast. As he walked out, he looked over to where the man with baseball cap and paper was—yet, nothing was there. Not the paper or even his mug. “Where’d he go?” “Who?” Suze said, her voice overcast. She seemed to have aged two decades in two seconds. “The guy who was over there,” he said, pointing. “Hon, the only guy heah before ya rolled in was Martey. Nobody else has come in tuday.” Jasper looked at her. She wasn’t lying, as far as he could tell. “Thanks again,” he said, waving a hand and left.
Eliza was as hungry as Jasper was. She left the motel and drove to Fall’s Restaurant. There she had her breakfast—oatmeal, yogurt, and tea. A breakfast considerably healthier and lighter than Jasper’s heart-stopper combo. She left half an hour later, and skipped over to Callaghan’s. There, she picked up some food: pre-made sandwiches and yogurt, among other things. She was broke when she left—she couldn’t even afford a soda out of the vending machine; this scared her just as much as returning to the Inn did, because now, she was really screwed. She was beyond going back, beyond being able to still call it all off.
When she had her Chevelle all packed up, she sat in the driver’s seat, but didn’t leave. Eliza remained there, breathing in silence, wondering if she should go back to the Inn—and wondering how her grandmother, at eighty-two and having a ‘queah cough”, would take bankruptcy. Eliza, at last, started up the car and left the town behind her. The Chevelle would never make it back to Goff Falls again. For, halfway to the Cavalier Inn, disaster would befall her. Jasper tried Nigel’s cell en route to the library; for what would be the last time, Jasper received Nigel’s voice mail. Jasper left the same message as he always did: he was in Goff Falls and Nigel should call him back soon. Jasper didn’t know what to do, now. Why isn’t he getting my calls? he thought, rather concerned, I know we both have signal; I researched Boothbay myself, and they have perfect signal down there. So what the hell? Jasper checked his own signal. A pointless thing to do, yes, but maybe there was something wrong with the phone; there wasn’t. He had three bars, enough to call and come in clear. Maybe they got in an accident. No, the phone would have been destroyed, or at least would ring and be picked up. Maybe he lost his phone. No, Nigel is better than that. He doesn’t even lose a single sock in the dryer at the laundromat—unlike Jasper, who had to buy a new pack of socks on a monthly basis. What if he forgot about it? What if— Jasper cut himself off. He had made it to the library. It was an ancient building, perhaps as old as the town itself. Made of faded brick, it stood at least three stories tall, four white pillars shooting up from the white deck at front of the building, supporting a veranda—much like that of the Inn’s, yet smaller. Jasper parked beside a station wagon in the parking lot, a patch of gravel, dirt, and scattered yellow leaves. He exited his car and ascended the small stairs up to the deck, entering the library. The room was huge; book cases towered in the center of the floor and along the walls; a double staircase, like that of the Inn’s led up to the second level (which only hugged the walls, leaving the ceiling, three stories up, open for sight); the ceiling, containing many skylights, hung high above it all. To his right, a large desk sat. Its varnish was dark—almost black—and was chipped in some places. On top of it, a lamp and a desktop computer occupied the surface; a calendar lay under the light. Jasper looked around. As far as he knew, the library was vacant. “Hello?” Jasper called out. No response. “Is anybody here?” Still nothing. Jasper started to walk between two towering bookshelves, mass-market books clogging their shelves. These shelves went back for a few feet, and an intersection was formed by the other shelves. After this intersection, there were two more bookcases that followed the first two’s path; these ended a meter before the far wall. Jasper heard a rustling noise and increased the tempo of his stride. He made it to the intersection and looked to his right; something, a shadow, turned left at another inter-
section; Jasper calculated that there were a total of eight bookcases in all, forming two crossings. Jasper ran to the intersection that the thing had walked into. “Hey!” he said, running for the corner. Just as he made it to the intersection, an old woman turned back out and faced him; Jasper stopped, almost falling onto his face and over her. The woman gasped and shuffled back, clogs clacking on the floor. She had wavy, thinning white hair and skin that hung onto her bones like the peeling of an apple left in the sun to dry up. “Jeez, sonny, you scared me, there,” she said, clutching her chest a bit with her gnarled right hand. Her voice was devoid of an accent, like Roy’s. “I am Martha, the librarian. Now, how can help you?” “Well…I was sent here by Roy, said Jasper, “He’s the cook at High Street Diner?” “Yeah,” Martha said, eyes narrowing a bit, “I know Roy. What about him?” “He sent me here,” Jasper repeated, “I need information on the Cavalier Inn.” Martha’s eyes widened. What little blood that went to her face faded; her skin was milkygray. “Follow me,” she said, and began to shuffle off down the path she was going down originally. He followed, and they made it to the far wall. There she turned right and they followed the wall all the way to a small staircase that led up to the second floor. Jasper followed the old woman, but had a hard time keeping up with her surprisingly fast gait. She scurried up the stairs, Jasper following, and they reached the top; he now had a panoramic view of the library. He could see all the bookshelves, the tops like rectangular islands, pillars of books and— “Come on, then!” said Martha, agitated, “We haven’t got all day, you know!” Jasper stopped looking at the view of the library and resumed following the Martha. She led him along the second floor—which was, now that Jasper thought about it, like an indoor balcony—alongside other bookshelves. These were smaller than their firstfloor cousins were and built into the walls. Older books filled them—some even seemed as ancient as the library and its caretaker. “Where’d all these books come from?” “Boy,” said Martha, “when a library has been around as long as this one, it tends to accumulate books.” They stopped. Martha had taken Jasper to the end of the balcony—to his right, he saw an exit leading to the veranda. Martha was staring at some books on the shelf in the corner. She produced a small, silver skeleton key, different from (yet similar to) Jasper’s. She removed two gigantic, timeworn tomes from the shelf before her, and taking their spot was a rectangular outline in the wall, a brass keyhole close to the right-side edge. She unlocked it, and the trap door sprung open. Inside, a leather bag sat in the darkness; Martha hefted the bag out, and, with a grave awareness of how important the bag’s contents were, gave to Jasper. He reached for the drawstrings, but Martha stopped him. “Don’t open it here,” she said, “Not here. Not while they watch.” This statement confused Jasper, but dismissed it for senility…he nevertheless respected her request. Just in case.
Martha turned back, closed the compartment, replaced the books, and put back her key. “When do I return it?” he asked. “Never. Keep it. I have no use for it; not when it reminds me so much of what I’ve lost,” she replied cryptically, “Maybe it’ll serve you better than I.” “Okay…” he said, still suspicious of her dementia, “Fine.” “That,” Martha said, jabbing a twisted finger into the sack, looking like an old crone for a moment, “Will answer any of you questions.” She regained her composure as much as her frail body would allow, looking like a grandmother again. It seemed as though a weight had been lift off her as she spoke. “Now, can I help you with anything else?” Jasper looked down at the leather bag; it was ancient, like everything else native to this building. Jasper could feel the book’s weight and shape through the leather—it was thin, but very big. “No,” Jasper said, “This is plenty. Thank you.” “Good,” Martha said, “Just don’t return it. I wouldn’t want it back, anyhow.” “Who’s the author?” Jasper asked, feeling the book again. It was slightly flexible. “A woman named Beverly Chams,” Martha said, beginning to walk for the stairs, “She used to write for the Goff Tribune; that is, before it went defunct. She passed away eleven years ago—she gave it to me before she did.” Martha neglected to admit the fact she, herself, had once been named Martha Chams. Martha and Jasper then went back down to the ground floor. From there, Jasper exited the library, with a final word of thanks. He put the leather bag on top of his dash and started up the old car. He departed from the library, turning left down the road. He stopped out front of the motel—the road to damnation, salvation, or both, stretched before him. Did he want to go? No. But something told him he had to. Something or—now that he thought of it— someone. Some unseen, nudging hand. Is it you, Gaunt Man? Jasper thought, Or is you, Rag-Doll Girl? Both. Help, us, Jasper, Help all of us. He saw himself as a diver before a dark, deep pool. Should he ease in, or back away? He chose neither, and dived instead, headlong into the cold, constricting dark. Jasper pressed down on the throttle and sped off to his fate, whatever it was.
The engine hacked, couched, and spluttered. It sounded much like that of an avid smoker, lying upon his deathbed, breathing his last gulps of air. (Queah cough, queah cough.)
The car began to lose momentum, slowing down. Clattering arose from the hood as the car came to a stop. Steam rolled out from the grille. Eliza tried to restart the car. Nothing. Not even the whirr of pistons. It died. “Fuck!” Eliza screamed. She flung open the door and made her way to the front of the car. Eliza lifted the hood and steam rolled out. She could feel the engine’s heat from where she stood; it felt like putting her face in front of an open oven. When the steam cleared, Eliza saw the engine: heat wavered off it like an anti-gravitational liquid, distorting the manifold, fan, the belts. The engine hissed like an agitated snake. Eliza looked it over, not daring to touch the engine; third-degree burns weren’t something she desired greatly. Eliza just couldn’t see why it had overheated—thus causing its death. She sighed and closed the hood. Eliza had one choice: walk back to town and get a tow. With what money? An evil voice cackled in her mind. She pushed it away. Eliza grabbed her coat, threw it on, and started her trek. A mumble of an engine echoed as it came up the road.
Jasper saw Eliza walking alongside the road and stopped. “Need a ride?” he asked, reaching over and rolling down the window. “Only if that can tow me to the garage,” she replied. “Hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Jasper said, “But the tow truck’s out of service.” “Great,” Eliza said, blowing a stand of hair away from her face. This stirred something inside Jasper; he suppressed it, however, smothered it with a pillow, killed it. “Shit.” “Come on,” Jasper said, “I’ll give you a ride.” Eliza looked at Jasper, leaning towards the window and staring at her with his cool blue eyes, and, for a second, her heart fluttered. Get a grip, she told herself vainly, Get a goddamn grip. “Fine,” she said with a momentary pause, “Just stop at the car on the way.” “Deal,” Eliza got into Jasper’s car and they started down the road; they stopped at her car shortly afterwards. Eliza and Jasper got out; Jasper opening the trunk of his car and making room for her stuff, while Eliza started to retrieve her belongings. The last item she heaved in the trunk was a tote bag, crammed with so many books that the seams were nearly busting apart. “Read much?” Jasper said as he pulled out a book. Spirit Orbs it said on its cover, which had a “mysterious” floating ball of light on it. Christ, he thought, remembering the tacky, pseudo-scientific books he had read in the library with Vic when he was younger. “Mostly just reference,” Eliza replied, and walked over to the passenger side of the car. Jasper shook his head and put the book back. He closed the trunk.
“What’s this?” Eliza said as she picked the leather bag off the dash. Jasper had just sat back inside the Challenger. “I don’t know,” he said, starting the car and pulling out into the road, “Open it.” Eliza then pulled the drawstrings and opened the bag. “It’s a book,” Eliza replied as she pulled out a book that was just like its vessel and the library from whence it came: ancient. It was bound in dark, ragged leather and had a tired, worn look—like a traveler who had spent years exploring the world, and came back, bruised and scarred to share his story with the masses. There was nothing on the front or back as to suggest a title or an author. She lifted the front and looked down at the first page. A newspaper clipping lay in the middle, yellow from age. Beside it, scrawled in bluish ink, a date. “I think it’s a scrapbook or something. There’s an article here…and a date. August 15th, 1917.” “What’s the article say?” Jasper said Eliza began to read the article.
Five-Star Resort in Steadfast: Town Gives Mixed Reviews
Beverly Chams, Correspondent
The hot topic that has had the town of Steadfast buzzing this past week is the recently-approved Cavalier Inn; which is being built by John Cavalier, son of Mary Cavalier, famous for her roll in the recent motion picture: Beauty Before Age. Mr. Cavalier’s reasons for building the hotel is, “So people like my mother can come see what the great state of Maine is truly like.” Some people agree, such as the owner and manager of Gerald Food & Drug, James Gerald. “I think it’s wonderful,” says Gerald, “It would bring so much economy to Steadfast—economy we need. Why, businesses will prosper!” But others, like Joshua Carver, the owner of Blue Valley Guns & Ammunition, disagree. “I don’t like it,” says Carver, “It’s too good to be true. There has to be a hitch. And can you imagine all the tourists? We’ll be flooded with them year-round!” Whatever the opinion, everyone agrees: the Cavalier Inn will be here to stay. Eliza stopped. “So it seems that not everyone was all the horny over the Inn,” said Jasper, still cruising along. “Yeah,” Eliza said, and flipped the page, “Here’s another; November 3rd, 1918.”
The New Cavalier Inn Unsafe? Some Speculate So
Beverly Chams, Correspondent
In light of the most recent disappearances in Steadfast, a few people around the small town have begun to believe that the up-and-coming Cavalier Inn may not be safe.
They argue that, because of recent events, the building should not continue to be constructed. Jane Thomas, who is against the further construction, talked about how her husband went missing. “Paul,” she says, “Left Tuesday morning and never came back. Some of the other wives and I have been looking for them for the last week. But, the day after they went missing, we weren’t allowed to search the woods where they were working…John Cavalier should stop this right now. Five good men have gone missing without a trace; I don’t want that to happen again.” Paul Thomas, Richard Greengrass, Joseph Ritter, Daniel Frost, and Zachary Beeman, all disappeared last Tuesday while cutting down trees for the new road up to the lot where the Cavalier Inn is to be built. “I am sorry to hear about the disappearances of the men,” says John Cavalier when asked about the vanishing men and the arising concerns, “But I cannot just stop construction because they’ve gone missing; I am too invested in this project to simply stop. The construction of the Inn will begin next spring, regardless.” Eliza stopped reading. “That’s it,” she said. “What’s on the next page?” Jasper asked, “There’s got to be something worse.” “You don’t care about this?” she said, “Five people go missing and you want to know ‘what’s next?’ This isn’t bad enough?” “Listen,” Jasper said, his eyes focused on the worn asphalt road, “Did you talk to anyone in town about the Inn and get a shocked looked or something?” He shot her a glance. “Yeah,” Eliza said, “When I talked to the guy running the motel. What’s your point?” “The point is,” Jasper said, almost feeling the Inn reeling him in like a doomed fish for the deep fryer, “Why would an entire town of people be so scared of a place where a couple of guys went missing about ninety years ago? Something bigger must’ve happened. Something more tragic.” “Like what?” she said. “Turn the page,” he said, “Let’s find out.” Eliza did, and two articles covered the page, one larger than another. The dates were scrawled beside the articles in that same bluish ink. “There are two,” Eliza said, “April 25th and May 2nd, 1919,” She read the article:
Double Tragedy: Sister Goes Missing, Brother Dies in Search
Beverly Chams, Correspondent
“It’s tragic,” says David Stonewall, manager of the Cavalier Inn, “Just tragic.” This Monday past, a girl by the name of Rosemary Johnston went missing. Her brother, William “Billy” Johnston, reported her missing. After three days of searching,
Billy passed away just yesterday, when a tree branch fell upon him while he was searching Steadfast Road along with others in a search party. Their mother, Linda—who is the current head of cleaning and maintenance at the Inn—was just divorced from an abusive relationship, and moved to Steadfast one year ago from Bangor. Her children came with her, each taking her maiden name. “I just want to find my baby,” she said earlier yesterday morning, before the news of her son reached her. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.” After the death of Billy, Linda, understandably, refused to comment further. “This is not good,” Stonewall says, just minutes after hearing news of Billy’s death, “Not good at all. First, Rosemary goes missing. And, as if that is not bad enough, Billy dies while trying to find her. I cannot even begin to imagine what Linda feels right now. It is very sad—I actually liked the kids. Both were well behaved and did not make messes; it will feel both odd and empty here without them.” John Cavalier was unreachable for a comment. Jasper’s heart thudded now. He understood now…Billy, and the Rag-Doll Girl. Rosemary. A chill went down his spine, up, and back down. Who did that to her? Eliza continued on.
Mother’s Suicide Blamed on Death and Disappearance of Children
Beverly Chams, Correspondent
Yesterday, when Linda Johnston—the mother of the still missing Rosemary and deceased Billy—didn’t report in for work, a maid by the name of Rory McGibbins went into her room to see what the problem was. She found Johnston in the tub in her room, filled with hot water, her wrists cut. “I came in there, looking for Linda,” says McGibbins, rather hysterical, “She wasn’t in bed, so I came into the bathroom, and saw her there. Her eyes were still open. The water in the tub was bright red; the next thing I knew, I was screaming.” Johnston’s suicide was of no mystery to the police. “She killed herself because the loss of her children was too great,” states Sheriff Paul Nobleman. Still, some find it shocking—and unbelievable. “I really can’t believe it,” says David Stonewall, “Linda was an active Christian, and believed in having faith. To persevere. It does not make much sense. However, since Billy’s death, I have noticed how depressed she has been. So, I guess it was too much for her to take. It is understandable, I suppose.” Johnston will be buried next Friday at Overlook Cemetery, next to her son. “Okay,” Jasper said, “What’s next?” “That wasn’t bad enough?” Eliza echoed, “Can you possibly be more callous?” Jasper sigh impatiently. “It was bad,” Jasper said, “But not bad enough. What’s next?”
“Fine,” Eliza sighed, as if to say, fine, I’ll show you. She flipped the page and stopped, staring down at the page blankly. “Jasper?” “Yeah?” “You want bad? You got it. November 6th, 1920.” A huge—an entire-front-page—article covered the page, a photo of the Inn printed amidst the body of text. It was a photo of the front entrance, the doors open and people—police—walking about. After hearing the title, Jasper’s blood ran cold; ice water pumped thought his veins, like partially-frozen Kool Aid. A frightening thought— Tropical Punch, Oh Yeah! —popped into his head. Where it came from he didn’t know, and never wanted to. The article read:
Disaster: Manager Found Brutally Murdered!
Police Investigates Horrid Killing of David Stonewall
Beverly Chams, Correspondent
Early Monday, while the residents of Steadfast and borders of the Cavalier Inn alike slept in their beds, the head of cleaning—Georgina Patterson—awoke to start the day. “It started as usual, you know,” Patterson says, “I washed up, got dressed, left my room. I walked down the stairs and looked up at the doors. And there was David.” David Stonewall was murdered sometime last night, or early this morning, between the hours of 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM—as determined by the state medical examiner, Joseph Cottle. It was clearly a homicide: his body was found staked to the wall above the door. His hands and feet were nailed to the wall and his eyes were found, grotesquely, sewn shut. His shirt was not on his body when Patterson found him. Instead, a pentagram was burnt into his chest, with a Trinity knot branded in the middle. The lack of blood at the scene, including the wounds, further suggests this was no ordinary murder. When Mr. Stonewall’s body was taken down, suspicion lead Cottle, to try to draw blood. He drew none. “I think it’s a cult,” says Charles Danvers, one of many Steadfastians who have heard of the slaughter, “A bunch of crazy kooks got together and butchered an innocent man. What is the world coming to?” The local pastor, Kevin McGregor, supports Charles’s theory. “In many occult religions,” McGregor explains, “People are often branded or somehow adorned with pentagrams and other symbols of Evil when they are killed in a sacrifice. And the pentagram found on David’s body is a sure sign of a Satanic Cult— however, the symbol of the Trinity is of nothing I can associate to any known sect. “On a more personal note, I will miss David dearly; he was a regular church attendee on Sundays, and a good friend.”
“It is terrible,” says Somerset County Sheriff Paul Nobleman, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life; never even heard about it.” When asked who may be responsible—perhaps a cult—Nobleman said, “Some sick, deranged maniac, I’m sure. As for a cult, I don’t think it’s a realistic possibility. A mentally-ill killer is a more rational possibility.” All attempts to contact John Cavalier have failed. It seems that he has fled the Inn’s shadow, escaping it. Services for David Stonewall will be on Friday, in Goff Falls. His sister, Joyce, will also be there. In the Cavalier Inn’s life span so far, six people have gone missing and three (including David Stonewall) have died. The question has—and will—always remain: Is the Cavalier Inn safe? A silence ensued after the last words, like a wake after a death. The only sound was the rumble of the Challenger and their breathing. “Let me see the book,” Jasper said after a long pause. Eliza passed over the open book as Jasper stopped on the side of the road. He grabbed the book. A tingle passed through him and he was not in the Challenger anymore. Reality fell out beneath him.
“Gawd help us,” the officer said, his long face sallow, “Gawd help us all.” The officer—along with many others—was staring at the hanging body of David Stonewall. His was head hung, as if ashamed of his new, full-chested tattoo. He never saw it, however, for his eyes were closed permanently, thanks to the aid of thick black thread that held them shut. The oddest thing of all, odder than the nature of the death, was that there was no hint of blood at the scene of the crime. “How in the name of Holy Christ did he get up there without gettin all bloody?” said a second officer in a queasy voice. He was balding and skinny, with big, hornrimmed glasses. He had a look of severe disgust upon his face, and had in fact vomited up his morning breakfast, an omelet and toast—cook for him by his wife. “He’s been drained of blood,” said a pale man with short, brown hair and brilliantly green eyes. He wore a tan trench coat to keep himself dry; it had been raining all day, now. He could just tell from looking at the man that there wasn’t a pint of cool blood in his system. “It’s the first step in embalming, you know. First, you remove the blood, then you put in the embalming fluid.” Officer Two looked like he was going to vomit again. Officer One, trying to switch topics: “So, Joey, yer sayin he’s been drained of blood. Like a vampire r somethin’? Cuz’ I read that theah Dracula book, and I tell ya, I’ve got the creeps evah since.” “No, Eddy,” said Joey, impatiently “Just drained. Vampires and Dracula don’t exist.” Eddy looked somewhat relieved. At least there’s that, he thought. Officer Two spoke. “So, why would anybody bothah to just drain him like that?” “Don’t know George; could be some kind of a cult. Satanists or something.” George and Eddy looked pale. Never had they dealt—or even seen—Satanists or any other cult. Everybody they knew were devout Christians. “But, don’t that seem weird,” Eddy said, “A cult in this area, I mean? Can you think of anyone—” “No,” Joey said, cutting him off, “A cult is out of place in this town—hell, this state. But maybe they’ve traveled here from somewhere else; you should look at people who’ve visited this town as of late.” Another officer came into the lobby, carrying a ladder. Joey thanked him and the officer left. Joey set up the ladder and climbed up to the cadaver; Eddy and George watched, horrified, as Joey examined the corpse, their faces inches away. Eddy and George both believed the corpse would suddenly spring to life and devour Joey Cottle. Joey looked at the spike wounds, where large, rusty metal nails punctured David’s hands, and saw that not even a single drop of blood had seeped from beneath the heads. Nor was there any blood from the burn wounds. However, a small amount of browning blood had crusted at his eyelids, where the stitching had gone into and came out from the eyes. His eyes were sewn when he was alive.
“Well,” Joey breathed, his eyes inches away from this poor fellows closed ones, “Isn’t that rather curious?” Joey took out a syringe and tried to draw blood—just to make sure his assumptions were correct. They were; no blood came forth. Joey climbed down and turned to the officers. “His eyes were sewn when he was alive,” Joey said, “Or, that’s as far as I can tell here. The burns and puncture wounds were made post-mortem. Get him down from there as gently as possible and get him to the morgue.” Joey left the lobby. “Great,” said Eddy, sarcastically, “We get the fun job.” “I know,” said George, a pale-green color soaking his face. He looked almost like a corpse himself. They left the lobby, walking out into the cold, wet, and gray November day. Jasper’s vision faded.
David Stonewall— Not a corpse. Yet. —ran into the room; Jasper saw this through his eyes. He could not quite distinguish just which room in the Inn it was, for things were a blur. He had lost his glasses running up here; Jasper didn’t know how he knew what he did—some internal voice just told him these things. Stopping for a second, David ran over to a door, tried to open it, turning his key and pushing it. When the key didn’t work, David and the man to his left rammed it with their shoulders. The man had a dark, foggy complexion about him. They entered a room lit by hundreds of points of flickering light, casting an eerie light—candles, Jasper assumed. He saw three blurry people sitting cross-legged, around a circle with a dark spot at it center. Things suddenly came into focus; it was a pentagram with a Celtic knot in it’s center—just like the burn that would befall David Stonewall’s chest. But Jasper saw no more, because a blunt “thud” made the vision go black. Jasper heard voices and sounds, but never saw anything through David again. In the back of his mind, Jasper thought, his eyes. David screamed—from the shock and pain of his sewn-shut eyelids; a loud slap stopped him. A voice—both strong and muffled—spoke. It spoke with passion, yet all Jasper could hear was a few words out of the speaker’s mouth: “Blessed be!”, “Lord,” and “Rite.” A pulsing deathbeat thrummed throughout David’s veins, suppressing the sounds around him. The voice stopped. An alien whooshing sound—like air following through a tunnel—filled the room and, suddenly, there was a slight thud as if someone heavy had just
jumped off a chair and onto the floor. A hissing sound filled the air, a choir of snakes. It sounded almost like speech, but belonged to something with venom. Then, suddenly a woman screamed. “No, please, God—” a woman screamed. The last word faded like the ringing of a pair of cymbals after being crashed together. David heard her hit the floor; a man started to say a prayer. “O Lord, who art heaven, hallowed be thy—” his scream cut off the prayer, and David heard a thump as the man’s body crashed into the floor. David’s breathing was rapid, faster and faster, like a blind rabbit who knew that it was trapped in its den by hungry wolves; it was only a matter of time before death’s jaws tore him apart. Two more deathcries filled the air and he and Jasper knew what was next: David. Suddenly, he was stripped of his shirt. “What’s going on?” David said, voice high, panic-stricken. Even though the Gaunt Man wheezed, Jasper knew that their voices were the same. Suddenly a cold hand pressed down upon both of their chests; it had a slightly spongy feel, as if the cool flesh on it was barely clinging to its icy bones. David could see nothing, yet he snapped his head around; his heart beat sharply, as if screaming something David all ready knew: this was the end. Then pain erupted all over David’s body, as if billions of pins were stabbing his skin. David screamed in agony, he felt a horrid emptiness inside him—a terrible, limitless ache of something leaving his body. His scream stopped in the middle of its bloody note, and faded with a gurgle. Jasper heard laughing fill the room as everything was wiped away, like writing on a chalkboard.
Jasper watched—mute—as the little blonde girl walked into the clawing, groping darkness of the dark green maze. A crisp breeze twirled her white, frilly dress around her skinny legs as she was devoured by the dark void; he could see shadows swirling and creeping about in that void. Jasper walked forward—on impulse, not will—and the darkness enveloped him. He felt as though he were falling. He saw the lighted clearing before him. How long had he been walking? For hours? Or minutes? Seconds? Never? All for naught; never for all. In the clearing, he saw something—or someone—bent over an object unseen. It was dark, at the top of a hillock, and he saw the small pitched roof of the well. Jasper walked forward and up the hill, the humanoid unaware. It bent maniacally over its work, an artists over its Mona Lisa, a sculptor over its David. The humanoid was hooded and cloaked in a fine sable satin, lined with red; Jasper looked over its shoulder. His heart—or at least his mind’s heart—stopped. Rosemary laid there, the final cut being slashed through her cheeks with an ornate blade. It was just as his dream was—red marks outlin-
ing her face, her cheeks gashed. However, he saw something he missed in his dream—the cause of death. A stab wound bled out her chest, staining the frilly lace, darkening it to a near-black. Her hazel eyes flicked open and looked at Jasper. Blood tears swam in them, drizzling down past her temples and into her fine, sandy hair. The cloaked humanoid looked up at Jasper, the knife blade it held dripping with red blood. Beneath the hood, Jasper swore he saw the face of death. He did not, however. A bleached-white skull seemed to float underneath the hood. Two small, glowing, ice blue balls floated in the deep abyss of its eyesockets. Somehow—defying all logic, physical laws, and human imagination—it smiled, the teeth pulled backward, as if they were the rubbery latex of a Halloween mask instead of hard bone. The icy oes in its sockets brightened and Jasper could feel its chilled hand grab his throat. He saw that they were skeletal hands, bones that floated and bent magically. In the other hand, it drew back the knife. It thrust the knife forward into Jasper’s chest, warm blood spluttering out of him, and the vision faded.
Jasper sat in a dark, dust-clogged room clutching his chest; yet, no blood seeped from his perceived wound. He was sitting on something hard, seeing nothing but darkness. Light then burst into the room, and Jasper saw that he was on a metal bucket in a root cellar. The room had a low ceiling that was held up by pillars of rough wood. Shelves and barrels ran along all the walls. On the shelves were a menagerie of items— glass jars holding odd contents, such as liquids of a pale red-yellow color, earthy dusts ranging from black and gray to blue and red, and even parts of animals in formaldehyde. Roots and herbs hung from the ceiling, drying. The light came from a doorway—which almost seemed to float eight feet in the air until he saw the rickety steps leading up to it. An African-American boy, in his late teens and looking very frail, shuffled down the stairs and took something off one of the shelves: a jar of thick, red liquid. He trotted back up, the stairs squealing and moaning beneath his skinny legs. Jasper got up and followed, walking on the dirt floor. The stairs did not protest Jasper’s ascending them; they were silent as he walked up into what looked like a shop. He saw two large glass windows with text on each. It was night—dim light from the outside lamps only just gave the text any legibility. The room was small, and supported Jasper’s shop theory; to his right, a counter sat with a cash register on it; along every wall stood shelves containing more of what was downstairs. Some small tables stood throughout the room like islands. The ancient cash register was made of heavy metal and sounded like a typewriter when the boy tapped on the circular keys. Over the counter, a black man in a long coat
and fedora hat stuffed a brown paper bag beneath the jacket. He had given the boy money, and now received his change. The man and the boy spoke, but Jasper couldn’t make out what they said; their voices, whether by physiology or phobia, were both quiet. The customer left—almost ran out—hurrying past a group of four white, burly men. They each followed the same style: white dress shirt, slacks, a tie, and suspenders. Some had their sleeves rolled up, held up with garters, some kept theirs down, hands in their slacks’ pockets. The final man who came in, however, was different from this posse. He wore a fine black suit and top hat that concealed the top half of his angular face; it gave him a straight, sticklike appearance, like a sable heron, of sorts. He walked with a cane—not to help him walk, but was rather as an accessory—and strode with dignity. He was, obviously, not with these other, common men. As the newcomers entered, an old man with a white beard and balding pate walked out from the back room. He walked up beside the boy; they were related, Jasper could tell just by looking at them—grandfather and grandson, most likely. Jasper walked over beside them, listening to their conversation. “Whites,” the old man whispered to the boy, “God help us. Stay back, Joseph.” The old man pushed Joseph behind him, as if his ancient body could possibly shield this frail boy. Jasper looked over to the large group of white men; they seemed to be interested in whatever the old man was selling, nothing more. Just normal, everyday customers in this odd shop. The man in the suit stood on the other side of the room, looking at jars of thick liquid. He seemed out of place in this small shop—he would be better suited in a ballroom, waltzing and sipping Chardonnay. Jasper had a feeling he knew what was going to happen next; it resided in the pit of his stomach, had always lied there in waiting since he got here, and soon it would shoot up his throat and be upon him in all its chaotic horror. One of the large white men—this one no different than the the rest, with rolled up sleeves that revealed bear-like forearms and a wide, pinstriped tie—walked up to the counter. He was the leader, Jasper assumed. “Cuse me, suh,” he said in a Southern drawl, giving a fake toothy smile, and resting his hairy arms of the counter, “I was wunderin if I could buy somethin off ya’ll. Maybe…some cotton?” The rest of his posse sniggered. “You get out of my shop,” the old man said, voice watery (like his eyes), frame trembling in fear, “Leave us alone!” The man with the hairy arms frowned—grimaced, in fact. “What do ya think, boys? Should we teach this niggah a lesson?” he grinned again, this one truthful and malicious, not painted and faux, “Teach em some respect?” The man grinned as his gang all gave thunderous approval. “Al’ight, then let’s do it!” He straightened back up, grabbed a jar of pale yellow paste on the counter, and looked at it for a second. He threw it at one of the small tables; it exploded as it hit the edge. The table fell over, jars of colored paste and herbs smashing over the floor in a congealed mess. His group then began to follow his lead, destroying the shop. The men grabbed jars, throwing them against the walls, tables, floor, and counter. Joseph ducked
beneath the counter as jars flew past; Jasper saw his eyes were blurry with tears. Just then, a jar shot through Jasper, like wind through a thin shirt, careening into the wall behind him. The men grabbed the old man by the scruff of the neck and pulled him over the counter. Joseph scurried out from underneath the counter and stared, petrified; tears now poured from his eyes. The men held the old man by his arms as the leader took out his whip, which he had been concealing beneath his shirt. He cracked it once in air, and the old man jumped, a reflex. The leader raised the whip, preparing to lash the man. “Time fer ya to go back to the fields, old man!” The leader said as he brought down the whip. And during all this, everyone forgot about the man in the suit…except Jasper. He watched as the man didn’t flee—or even move from his spot. The man just watched, no jars hitting him, eyes and angular face concealed beneath the rim of his dark hat—Jasper swore he saw a sick little grin at the corners of his mouth. As the whip was raised, Jasper watched the small grin blossom into a broad, maniacal smile; Jasper feared the man would do nothing—that he would watch on as if it were an act of a play. The whip rose, and Jasper turned, waiting for it to slash into the old man’s flesh. A second later, as it came down, a shot rang out in the shop. The whip was blasted out of the leader’s hand, as was his hand, leaving naught but a gory stump. Blood trickled down the leader’s raised arm, and, after a moment of disbelief, he screamed, collapsing to the floor. All eyes were on the man in the suit, who held an iron revolver pointed at the white men. He spoke. “Now,” he said, smiling broadly. Jasper felt cold. That voice. Where had he heard that voice? “If all of you fine gentlemen wish to live the rest of your pointless, ignorant lives, I suggest that you leave right now.” No one spoke. The man in the suit pulled back on the hammer once more, the chambers tumbled into place. The men scrambled out of the shop thereafter, leaving the old man to collapse, rolling onto his back. Joseph ran up beside him and the man in the top hat holstered the gun, hurrying beside the dying man. His smile had vanished. The old man was having stroke, though neither knew it. They only knew that he was dying. The old man looked at Joseph. “Joseph…” he said, and closed his eyes. A sigh escaped his parted lips. “Grandpa?” Joseph said, “ Grandpa, no!” Joseph buried his face into the old man’s chest, crying over his grandfather’s dead body. Outside, before the gang left, they broke out a gift for the shop owner and the man in the suit: Molotov cocktails. Two men lit their cloth wicks, which poked out of the top of the whiskey bottles, and threw them: one through the open door, one through a window. The alcohol bottles smashed on the floor within the shop and caught fire instantaneously. It began to spread and the gang ran off. “We have to get out of here,” the man in the suit said, watching as the fire grew, “Now!” The boy got up and the man took him outside he shop. Jasper exited with them, keeping pace. Yet, had he wished to stay in the burning shop he could have; the fire did
not harm him, even its heat was nonexistent to him. He looked back at the burning shop and read the gold text on the remaining window as it began to peel from the heat: Jahina’s Medicinal Shoppe Specializing in Authentic Hoodoo Remedies Jasper continued with them, as the man in the suit led them both to a black carriage sitting on the cobblestone street. The Louisiana moon shone high above them, a silvery disc— A Seeing Glass —partially obstructed by cottony clouds. The carriage was long and black, with matching horses. The combination made it almost invisible, the colors blending into the night. They entered, Jasper sitting in the only free space within the carriage, next to Joseph; the man in the suit sat across from Joseph. Red silk lined the cabin’s ceiling and the seats were made of crushed velvet. To most, it seemed like a prestigious and luxurious carriage, but to Jasper it seemed like a coffin. In front of Jasper, an old woman in a veil looked the boy over. Her face was not fully visible through it, though Jasper could tell that she was ancient. “Perfect,” she said, her voice as stable as a house of cards. The man in the suit spoke. “Joseph, my name’s JC. This is Adriana,” he said, the hat still concealing his jagged face, “And we need your help.” The vision faded and Jasper went from a carriage to what looked like a hospital.
There were white walls, white tiles, and white ceilings. People walked to and fro, carrying papers and sterilized instruments, helping patients along. Jasper got up from the chair that he sat in—which was white. A woman (middle-aged, by her looks) in black clothing walked through him; she was the same woman from the carriage. But she wasn’t; no, the time period hadn’t changed, Jasper knew, and she was far too young to be the same ancient woman behind the veil. Related, perhaps, to the other woman, but not the same. Jasper followed this new woman as she met a thin, haggard doctor with thick glasses. “Good Morning, Doctor Hampden,” she said, “I’m here to pick up my son.” Hampden looked at her. “Mrs.—” He tried. “Mary, please,” she said, “My husband’s been dead quite a long time now.” “Mary,” Hampden said, “I do not advise you to remove your son; he is far better off here in the hospital.” They began to walk down a white hallway, passing thick white doors with small metal doors that covered the viewing windows. “If you take him, you have to realize the responsibilities—”
“Doctor, I know for a fact that all you do here is what every other asylum has done with my son,” Mary said, “So don’t start tellin me about responsibilities.” Hampden gulped. “Now, here we are!” They arrived at a cell numbered 237. Jasper expected to see the decrepit woman jump out, but instead when they opened the door he saw only a dark, padded room. At the center, in an off-white straitjacket, sat a man. The stretched, distorted rectangle of light cast from the open door ended at his hunched back, the top of the frame cutting across his neck. Mary walked over to him and knelt; Jasper followed. “Come on, honey,” she said, holding his arm, “I’m taking you home.” The man stayed where he sat, staring forward and only forward. Silent. Jasper did not see his face; dark, grimy hair hung over it, concealing his features. Only the flicker of the whites of his eyes were visible. Jasper looked back at Hampden, who stared at them, fear in his magnified eyes. This patient worried him the most. Worried him more than any other in the entire hospital. Jasper looked at Mary, still cooing her son; he expected to see this bound man bite his mother, but instead he arose, not a word escaping his mouth. Back at the doorway, Hampden had found the light switch. All over the walls, in some kind of red paint (or blood; Jasper could not tell) were the words:
Who am I?
I am JC
Jasper felt numb.
Mary looked at her son, and steered him out of the room. Neither she nor Hampden saw these words; they were, it seemed, only visible to Jasper and this man, who glanced at them as he walked out of the room. “He’ll never recover if you take him,” said Hampden as they passed him, “And you know it.” Mary stopped, and gazed up at Hamden austerely. “He will,” she said, “I know he will.” And, with that, she guided her son out of the room. Jasper tried to follow, tried to escape those gigantic, red words, but Hampden closed the door. Jasper tried to walk through, but could not. He tried the knob, but could not turn it. The room began to shrink, the scrawled words growing around him. Soon, the room enclosed upon him and darkness encroached as the words grew and grew. JC. I am JC.
Seance and Scrying Crystal
Jasper was slung back into reality; his stomach, as a result, had a churned feeling. He shook his head—almost as if he were a dog drying off after a cold bath—and looked around the Challenger’s interior. After a second or two, he realized where he was. “You okay?” Eliza asked in the passenger’s seat. She eyed him curiously, “You zoned out there on me for a second.” “Uh…yeah. I’m, I’m fine,” Jasper lied, “Just daydreaming.” “Well, I think there is a link,” Eliza said, “Between these disappearances, I mean.” “Like what?” Jasper said, turning the ignition. Like a prehistoric animal awakening from deep hibernation, ready to wreak havoc on New York (or maybe just the ozone), the Challenger roared to life. “I can’t quite put my finger on it…,” she said, taking back the book and flipping through the articles, “Something about some of the dates…I don’t know.” “Well, good luck with that,” Jasper said, pulling out into the road, “We’re almost there.” “Great,” Eliza said, with severe sarcasm. She was still thinking about some of the dates; they seemed to mean something. To be close to something. “I think—” Eliza began, but was cut off by their sudden view of the valley; and the Cavalier Inn, sitting at its head. “My God,” Eliza said. “It’s kind of scary, isn’t it?” Jasper said. Eliza merely nodded. Like a roller coaster ride that has reached an anticline, the Challenger crested the hill, and then plummeted into the valley. They drove past the wasteland that was once a prosperous town; they passed the gun shop and drove up to the Inn. Trees with talonesque branches clawed at one another over their heads, as if in heated battle, some scratching at the Challenger’s roof. Several ravens eyed them suspiciously as they drove up to the Inn—suspiciously, or perhaps hungrily. The forest suddenly opened up, and there was the Inn—a white, four-story monster, prone to pounce upon them and attack. The hedge maze sat off at its side, like a twisted, feral mate. Jasper parked the car out front on the gravel; it crunched underfoot as they exited the Challenger and lugged their items in from the trunk. Jasper carried his cooler chest, the leather bag—with the scrapbook inside it—and Eliza’s tote bag. Somehow, he thought his was getting the shit-end of the stick (as all she had was a suitcase and a shopping bag of sparse food), yet he didn’t complain. They walked up to the Inn and onto the porch. The boards replied with their groans and creaks, lamenting that it was too much weight! The double doors stood regally before them, the Blue-Eyed Elk observing those who came near him now. “Come back, have you?” the elk seemed to say, “Dare to fight me yet again, have you?” “Ready?” Eliza asked. Jasper nodded. “Alright.” Jasper Garrison and Eliza Chapman then each grabbed a door on either side, and entered the Inn. They found themselves in the lobby once more, where cobwebs and dust
covered the dismal landscape. Jasper walked out into the room first, striding across the lobby and ascending the double staircase; Eliza soon followed, and they reached floor A. Jasper walked down the hall, waiting in front of his room. Eliza came up beside him, carrying the shopping bag and her suitcase. Jasper entered her room after she unlocked it, setting the foam cooler down and giving Eliza her tote bag. “Thanks,” she said, smiling. She felt somewhat childish saying it; almost as if they were a couple of teenagers in high school, he just helping her carrying her books to class. “No problem,” Jasper replied, hefting his cooler and book up. He left the room, and Eliza closed the door. She sighed. Jasper’s room was the same as he had left it; sheets rustled, green apple core rotting in the wastebasket, and the Diary lying upon the desk. The raggedy book had achieved pronoun stature in his mind—it seemed to deserve at least that, for what it might account for. Jasper set down his chest and walked over to the bed; he remade it halfheartedly and walked over to his laptop on the desk. He opened the screen and found the Ghost Cam program opened with the thirteen camera squares, now synchronizing. Eliza’s room was the same as Jasper; the bed remained horribly undone from her nightmare. She, however, fully remade it. The laptop waited on the desk in her room— she walked over to it, lifting the screen. The Ghost Cam system was open and the twelve squares dotted the screen in their neat grid, now refreshing. But she noticed something. Something Jasper forgot about. Something she had never considered. Under the first seven camera squares, as they began to slowly synch, the words 2 Users appeared. Eliza read it sevenfold. “What the fu—” Eliza started, and then she knew. Any positive feelings she felt for Jasper just then drained from her body, fiery rage replacing them. Jasper, she thought, both angered and awestruck, ‘In fact, I’m gettin’ more soon.’ That’s what he said. Fuckin’ bastard! I’ll kick his ass out of here for good! Furiously, Eliza closed the laptop and walked over to the door. She reached for the doorknob, but stopped. Wait, a calmer voice in the back of her head said, What if you’re wrong? You’ll go in there screaming and then what? Maybe you’ll find that he’s hijacked your system, or maybe not. Maybe there is a system error. Think it through some; you don’t want to be here all alone, do you? “No,” she said, although she was hard pressed to suppress her anger. But— Calm down. Eliza let go of the doorknob. Jasper was using the Ghost Cam program when he got a funny feeling. Something wasn’t quite right here, something was a little off. 2 Users. “Shit,” Jasper whispered to himself, seeing the words below the last seven camera boxes. He whispered multiple curses under his breath as he began to delete each of the cameras from Eliza’s system. If he didn’t, Eliza would surely have seen them and then it would be the end of this job. Eliza: 7, Jasper: 0, for cheating. Game over, bitch; Eliza
wins the fifty grand cash prize, Jasper charged with theft. Jasper deleted the last camera, and closed his eyes, rubbed his temples. How could have I been so stupid? he thought, Really? What the hell was I thinking? He tried, but still didn’t know. Jasper was now back to square one. Sorry, move directly to Go, do not collect two-hundred dollars. Six cameras, all in useless places—all pointless, except one. The attic. Jasper checked the box marked Camera 6, I User, no sound. The attic appeared across the screen, dusty shelves and all. The weak lines of light shone from the vent. Nothing. Or so it seems, thought Jasper as he switched over to thermal. A large blue spot— colder than the rest of room—was there, right in the corner where the Gaunt Man resided. Jasper looked at the spot with wonder. What happened to you David? Why did you give me the Diary? Did you? Why do you stay in the attic? Why do you stay there, instead of the lobby? Are you even David? Jasper watched the cold spot. It neither moved nor disappeared. It stood there, waiting for him. He closed the screen. Jasper decided it was time to learn more about David Stonewall. Eliza watched as Jasper walked across the lobby. She saw him enter the office behind the front desk, wondering what he was doing; what his plan was. To steal her camera? Possibly, although how he intended to as she watched him, she didn’t know. She still felt violated—still felt as though he had betrayed her. Eliza got up from her computer, and opened her door, crossed the hall briskly, entering Jasper’s room. It mirrored Eliza’s in design, all the way down to the positioning of the furniture. She walked over to the desk and opened the laptop. Ghost Cam was there, but only six blocks dotted the screen, automatically synchronizing. But…how? She asked herself, sounding like a disappointed child. The answer came from that calm, collected voice in the back of her head. System error. She left Jasper’s room, a mixture of chagrin and relief, and entered her own. Eliza looked at the Ghost Cam program in surprise. Or it may have been terror, she couldn’t tell. All her cameras had one thing underneath them: 1 User, Sound. Jasper walked out of his room with the Diary and his key, unaware of Eliza surveillance and eventual infiltration his room. Down the double stairs and into the lobby he went, not pausing, not stopping. He walked around the front desk and arrived at the door David described in his journal. It had foggy glass that blurred the inside. On it, the faded, peeling gold words read: Mr. David R. Stonewall, Manager. The door was made of a dark wood, varnished oak perhaps. Jasper gripped the tarnished brass knob and opened with no trouble; it was not even locked. He entered the room. In Jasper’s mind, one word could describe the office: Shitty. It was small, dim, and unorganized. The large desk that took up half the room was covered in old, yellowing
paper. The scent of mildew and rot was rich in the air; the drywall had crumbled ( had completely disintegrated in places, exposing the moldy studs and lathes beneath). A lone, solemn light hung down from the ceiling, dark, dusty, and dead. For the most part, it appeared the frail, old notes on the desk were complaints on things that needed to be done. Jasper picked up one from Linda Johnston. It was written in cursive. David, Today the toilet in room C5 flooded. We must get a plumber for these problems!!! —Linda Jasper picked up another note, this one scrawled across the back of an ad for fertilizer. Dave, You know it is a real pain in my ass trying to keep that damn maze nice and trimmed while still balancing the other jobs. Stuff like the flower garden, pool, and play set. We should really get another guy out here to help me! George Jasper put down the note and picked up another, lengthier, more eloquent one. David, I have written you this note to tell you of the upcoming tourist season. Soon it shall be fall and many people would like to see Maine’s foliage and enjoy the crisp autumn air. I am telling you that there may be an excess in reservations in the coming months and you should fix ANY problems now, before we tarnish our reputation. Also, you should try hiring more personnel to work around the Inn. Don’t worry about money; I have plenty. One final note: We should try putting the Johnston incident behind us. It was a freak accident; we cannot jump to any conclusions. I was lucky to escape the press, though I understand that Chams lady pestered you quite a bit. My condolences. Hang in there, David, and we shall pull through. P.S., I will also come up some time this fall, so be prepared!
He picked up one final note, this one very short. DS, It is gone—MG knows of this not. Let us pray someone finds it. —JC Jasper’s spine tingled at those initials. JC, once again—who was he? One man— or, possibly two? Possibly. He put down the last note and looked around. Behind the desk was an overstuffed chair with rotten, ripped red lining. A metal filing cabinet stood in one corner, the top drawer ajar; the contents were not pretty. Jasper continued to search the desk. He lifted a pile of papers and exposed a picture; he looked it over. It was a tattered, faded black-and-white photograph of what was surely David’s family. A graying elderly couple—the woman sitting down, the man standing with the aid of a cane—were in the front. Behind them, a slim woman stood, dark hair following down her back. A man stood next to her; he had slicked-back black hair and dark rings under his eyes. He smiled in the picture, but something was obviously troubling him— obvious in his eyes. He wore a suit, and his right hand was on the shoulder of the elderly woman; it was, without a doubt, David Stonewall. Jasper looked around the tight little room again. There was nothing else in here but rotting plaster, choking dust, and the diaphanous lattice-work of arachnids. He left the room and ascended the double staircase, retreating to his room. Noticing as he entered that the screen on his laptop wasn’t shut completely, Jasper finished closing it and sat on his bed. Now what? Jasper sat there, clutching at what few straws of ideas he had. Should I go back up to the attic? Or not? To help or to be apathetic; to be brave or to cower; to be or not to be. He weighed it all out, his own Skull of Yorick in his hand (except this skull belonged to David Stonewall), and decided. I’ll do it, Jasper thought, Because they need me. David needs me. Jasper got up, grabbed a plastic shopping bag of camera batteries he left in his open suitcase and exited the room, mustering what little courage he had left in him into a compact little light, desperately trying to fights off his dark void of fears and doubts. An idea occurred to him, suddenly, as he looked at room A7. Why not take Eliza along? After all, she could be of some help, he assumed; and Jasper wasn’t all that sure if he could follow through on his decision to help David and the others—that little light inside him looked too small and too dim, especially in all that darkness. He knocked on her door; she opened it and saw him, slightly surprised. “I’m going to the attic,” Jasper said, “I could use your help.” She studied Jasper. A moment of silence ensued—Jasper held his breath. “Fine,” she said, although somewhat curtly, “Give me a minute.” She left and returned a moment later, ready to go. She had a large, wooden, rectangular box., a bag of camera batteries on top of it.
“What’s that?” asked Jasper. The box looked rather odd; he didn’t know what was enclosed within it. “You’ll find out,” Eliza said, walking down the hall past him to the ballroom stairwell.
Jasper and Eliza reached the end of floor C, having finished replacing nearly all of the camera batteries, and faced the door to the attic. Eliza had her rectangular box with her, empty bag in her pants’ pocket, and still hadn’t told Jasper what was in the crate. The trip thus far had been silent and somewhat stiff—Jasper had felt a kind of terseness baking off Eliza, an aura of not-quite-negativity. Only when they broke off into separate rooms to remove and replace batteries did this intensity lessen. They began to ascend up to the attic, the stairs almost silent beneath their feet. Jasper opened the door at the top and they entered the dark room. The attic was the same as it was on the camera five minutes ago: bars of light shining through the vent, dusty shelves lining the walls and standing in rows, the closed, locked door. The floors were dustless, looking rather odd next to the shelves of a far opposite condition. “Okay,” Eliza said, “You want to know what’s in the box?” She sounded almost on the verge of being giddy, now, in an oddly sudden change in her mood—almost manically quick. Jasper turned around. “Yes,” he said. “Alright.” Eliza put the box on the clean floor and opened it. Inside it, an Ouija board waited. “A Ouija board,” remarked Jasper, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “What?” Eliza said, suddenly offended. “What about it?” “It’s just…” Jasper said, “Well, aren’t we trying to run a scientific investigation?” “What do you mean?” Eliza said, “A Ouija board has been used as a tool in paranormal investigation for years. Besides, this is no ordinary Ouija board; this board has been passed down in my family. From my grandfather, to my father, and now to me; three generations of use, and it has always been faithful—always been true. Or so my gram claims.” “Whatever you say,” said Jasper, climbing up to his last camera, replacing its near-dead battery. He came down and looked at the Ouija. The board had the basics of any Ouija: All the letters, numbers 0 to 9, Yes, and No. It was black, with gold text that was worn and faded but still visible. The pointing planchette matched; it was golden. She set it out on the floor, closed the box, and set the board on top of it. She sat down opposite the writing, the planchette pointing at her. “Sit,” she said waving a hand in front of her, on the other side of the box. Just then, she looked like a mystic sitting before a crystal ball, ready to give a fortune. He would have bet then that his fortune would be for him to gain nothing more in the next
five minutes than a sore ass. Unaware he was that his fortune, in the not-distant future, would be far, far worse. Jasper sat down across from her. “Have you used one before?” “Yes,” said Jasper, “It’s really a ‘duh’ kind of thing, anyway. Don’t move your hands; let the spirits do it for you.” “Good,” she said, ignoring his cynicism, “Then I’ll let you make contact.” “All right,” said Jasper, internally rolling his eyes, outwardly struggling not to. They put their hands on the planchette, he moving it to the starting position at the board’s bottom. “David Stonewall,” Jasper said, “Are you here, David? Are you with us?” All ready he felt like slapping himself. This was so point— The planchette was tugged by an unseen hand; Jasper watched it, shocked. Little by little, the pointer tugged their hands toward Yes. Jasper and Eliza watched, amazed, as it moved, as it stopped, the oculus at the center of the planchette warping the letters in Yes outward. They stared at this word for a moment, disbelieving it Jasper continued, his voice now jittery with excitement: “David, why are you still here?” The pointer moved across the Ouija feebly once more. J…C……M…G… “JCMG…” Eliza asked, looking down at the board, “What could…?” “I don’t know,” Jasper said, and thought of the curious note he had found in David’s office. It is gone. Let’s pray someone finds it. Yessir, JC. “I think it’s two different people. David, who are these people? Give us more. Another name. A place. A date—” The pointer moved again: 1…0……3…1……1…9…2…0…” “10, 31, 1920.” Jasper said, “The day before he was found dead.” “What about this date, David?” Eliza asked, “Was this when you died? Where did you die?” …R…O…O…M… “Room. What room?” said Jasper. The pointer did not move. Jasper then asked: “Were you killed in the room?” David did not respond. “David, are you still there?” Still no response. “I think we’ve lost him,” Eliza said. “Yeah…” Jasper agreed, “Are there any other—” The pointer began to move again, this time faster, stronger. Desperately. It scraped quickly across the black and gold surface, dragging along their hands like dead bodies on a metal examination table in a morgue. “Are you moving it?” Jasper asked. “No,” she replied, “Are you?” “No.” …M…A…Z…E…
“Maze.” Eliza said, “He means the hedge maze.” “David, do you mean the hedge maze?” Jasper asked. The pointer moved to Yes. “Yes, it is,” Jasper said, “David, what about the maze?” …H…E…L…P… “Help,” Eliza said, “Help is in the Maze.” “What do you mean, David?” Jasper said, “Help for who? Us? You?” David did not respond. “David?” Eliza said. No response. “David, are you there?” Jasper said, his hope sinking. David still did not respond. They waited, the immobile planchette lying still beneath their hands, like a heart that had stopped beating after countless tries of resuscitation. “I think he’s gone.” Eliza said. “Yeah.” Jasper murmured. Eliza smiled; he felt his heart leap and some heat rise up into his cheeks. Get a fuckin grip, an arrogant voice in his head bellowed. “I guess this old thing really does work.” “Yeah, it was amazing,” Jasper replied, and pointed at the Ouija, “How old is that?” “I guess about seventy-five years, or so. My grandfather bought it.” “Huh,” Jasper replied, feeling a bit lame, as he could say nothing more; he was, quite literally, speechless. Jasper got up and stretched; Eliza caught a glimpse of his toned stomach and flushed, focusing on packing up the old Ouija board in its wooden box. She then got up herself and they exited the attic; Jasper looked around the room before he closed the door. Light shone in slots across the room from the vent. Dust covered the junk-ridden shelves. The locked door remained where it was, still impenetrable. Little did he know that the next time he would be in this room, Eliza would be in grave danger. And death would soon follow. “Do you think we should check out the maze now?” Jasper asked. They were walking down the left hall on floor C. “Nah,” she said, checking her watch, “It’s half-past eleven right now. And that hedge maze may take us an entire day, even with a map we don’t have.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right on that one,” said Jasper, “I can see it from my room and it is very complex. I mean, terrible. We’ll be lucky if we can find our way through it tomorrow without being stuck in it.” They were now entering the ballroom. Yellowish light passed through the rotting lace, swirls of saffron dust floating in the light like billions of tiny stars in a galaxy of gray must. Eliza’s cameras watched them inquisitively, unblinking—the dust, it seemed, did not bother their eyes.
Jasper and Eliza exited the ballroom and descended the stairs, creaks and moans filling the air. The door-lined hall of floor A stretched out in front of them as they left the stairwell and as they walked to their rooms, Eliza got an idea. “We don’t need a map,” she said, “I’ve got the perfect thing.” “What?” Jasper said. “Give me a minute,” she said, and hurried off to her room—all but running into the door. She entered, and came back a moment later. “We’ll use this,” she said, as she pulled out a small metal case. She opened it up and pulled out a glimmering crystal at the end of a long, fine silver chain. This crystal was a perfect decahedron, the failing light of floor A bent into a weak rainbow by it. “What is it?” Jasper said, looking at it closer. The silvery chain was connected to the crystal by a special, ornamental cap, which wrapped around the topmost point of the crystal. “It’s a scrying crystal,” she said, and gently began to spin it in a circle, “It spins, and if it stops, you have what you’re searching for.” “Really?” “Really.” “Someone’s been watchin way too much Charmed,” Jasper jeered, looking the crystal over critically. The inside seemed as clear as spring water. “It works, really!” she said, for once not rebutting his scoff, “It’s not like a GPS, like in Charmed, but more like a detector of magical energies.” Jasper’s right eyebrow shot up. “Told you,” Jasper said, “Too much Charmed.” Eliza sighed. “It’s a doorway, sorta,” she continued, trying to ignore Jasper’s biting comments, “You just spin it,” She twirled it around again, giving it a slow orbit. “And when it stops, you have what you’re searching for.” All of a sudden, the crystal stopped, as if some invisible hand grabbed it, as if David was not done yet. The wide base was inclined ever so slightly towards Jasper’s chest, polygonic point like an arrow tip. For a half-second, they looked at it, then Eliza snatched it away with her free hand. She hoped—even prayed—that he had not seen that. Jasper, however, had; but he was more perplexed by its sudden stop more than why it had. “Why don’t you look at it?” Eliza said, a rose color beginning to glow in her cheeks. Jasper extended an open hand. In the brief few seconds before the pointed crystal landed into his palm, in that minuscule period before the shock of pain and sudden shift in his mind, he realized one thing—the crystal had stopped (somehow) upon him. She dropped the crystal into Jasper’s open palm. It hit his hand and an explosion in his head began—an atomic bomb to open up the warfare in his skull. Pain seared out in titanic waves, as if they were literally tearing apart his mind in a furious maelstrom; his chest soon joined it, unseen talons shredding his heart. His grip grew tighter—on impulse—around the scrying crystal’s perfect decahedral shape, the pain only increasing all the more. Jasper’s other hand flew up to his
head as he screamed, like he was trying to exorcise the pain from himself vocally. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, growling; he fell to his knees, head hung. The pain continued, sending waves of ache though his head and chest, the hairs on the back of his head stood up and shivers went down his spine; gooseflesh covered his body. Flames, unseen by his eye, yet felt doubly so, lapped his face, his arms, his entire body. Eliza screamed and jumped back. Jasper didn’t hear her; Eliza’s voice seemed muffled, as if spoken through a rag or pillow. He opened his eyes and stared into the crystal, from whence the pain came as the flames were joined in by some kind of infinitely sore, hollow sensation. A hooded man stared back at him, the crystal distorting his image somewhat; it reminded Jasper of a mirror funhouse. His sharp eyes shined like blue torches from inside the hood, his angular face composed of triangles and acute angles. He was laughing, ivory teeth visible, as if he were being told a funny joke; only this wasn’t good laughter—jovial as it was, this was the laugh of a torturer, who sewed eyes together and cut open faces. The laughter of someone bent on killing at his leisure. Please! Stop! his laugh said, I’m in Ag-on-NEEE!!! Jasper’s blood ran cold, yet fire still roasted him alive. The man was staring at him with those glowing eyes, studying him, sizing him up for the kill. In reality—something far from Jasper’s mind—Eliza started back for him. She reacted little by little, as if time itself had slowed down, air now a thick gel. The man in the crystal started to talk as the pain began to increase within Jasper’s head in sharp pulses. He jerked, looking away from the man. “I’ll get you Jasper,” he said gleefully, cackling like a male Wicked Witch of the West. The pain stopped for an instant; Jasper turned his head, stunned. THAT VOICE. “That’s right, buddy-boy! I’ll get you—you and your pretty little girl too. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” His smile widened as if it was the funniest damn thing on the face of the planet. Jasper still stared at him, disbelieving; his eyes were wide. That voice. It was— “Now, time to go to sleep, Caspy,” he said, voice colder than ice, slicker than hot grease, “And forget all ‘bout our little talk.” The man grinned one last time and the pain increased keenly, as if a dial had been turned to MAX inside his head. Any connections he had just made were now shattered and scattered— Far and wee, whatever that meant. —the information now irretrievable. The pain didn’t last long, though, for his body just gave in after a few seconds, his consciousness collapsing. Darkness encroached upon the corners of his eyes, as his back and side hit the battered carpet of floor A, dust sprinkling them. The last thing he heard and saw was Eliza, screaming his name, crouching down, and looking into his eyes. “Jasper!” her voice faded out as darkness took him.
“Well, that was interesting,” said the hooded man, leaning back from the large, stone basin. The azure water’s glow went from vibrant—almost blinding—to dim. His piercing eyes shifted over to the big man beside him. “Wouldn’t you agree?” The man laughed; his large friend, however, didn’t. “Yessir,” the large man said. “Lighten up, Joe! Jesus-Field-Hopping-Christ, sometimes I think you’re dead!” The man laughed again, louder, stronger. “Think…you’re…DEAD!” he said between howls of crazed cackling. The coughing came on violently. He heaved over the basin, his breath exasperated and heavy. His face began to turn ashen; his eyes bulging. His skin started to get a leathery consistency, dried as if sent through an oven. “Joe!” rasped he, all the laughs suddenly beaten out of him. The large black man in the suit went over to a large, silvery-red tub in a back room; a deep-crimson liquid filled about a quarter of it. He filled a matching silver-red goblet full of it using an ancient, stained wooden ladle. Joe gave the drink to the hooded man, who was down on all fours now, hacking, skin cracking. The man on the floor drank it, taking long swallows, his hands trembling, some of the liquid dribbling down his neck and chest as he finished the goblet. He dropped it on the floor, clattering, rising to his knees, mouth and neck wet with the red juice. His skin converted back to its original, normal pallor—if such paleness could be considered normal. He arose, looking at the big man in front of him. It was almost ironic; he lived, yet all the effects returned in good time. He still had to drink the stuff; Joe and her didn’t have to. Why? Why did he have to? To him, it was like limbo: caught eternally between destruction and salvation. Yet soon—very soon—he would reach salvation, after so long a wait. “Thank you,” the hooded man said, level-headedly, “I really shouldn’t get into laughing fits anymore—how much is left?” “Enough, without any of your ‘fits’.” “Good,” he turned away, “We’ll have just the right amount. None of the old mixing with the new,” he looked back at Joe, “Saman will be pleased.” “Yessir.” The man smiled and laughed again.
A man’s voice awoke him. “Wakie, wakie, eggs and backie, Casper.” ‘Backie’ sounded like ‘bay-kee’. Jasper awoke with a jolt, skull aching and body sore. He held his head with the heel of his hand, and realized that he was in his room, A8, Eliza sitting beside the bed in a chair. “Hey,” she said in a tired and raspy voice, the sound of someone who was waiting beside the hospital bed of someone in a coma. It was exhausted and sick-sounding—and underneath it, he heard the echoes of panic and fear. She continued: “What happened?” “I…I don’t know,” said Jasper, thinking it funny his memory should be so blank, “I can’t remember anything after touching that crystal.” “I called an ambulance,” said Eliza, “They should be here soon.” Jasper bolted up; the ache in his body left him. Eliza got out of the chair and backed up a few paces, surprised by his quick movement. “You called an ambulance?” Jasper blurted, “Why?” Eliza at once took the offensive. It had been instinctual ever since they met, and for her to have defied it earlier, she now saw, was a blunder. “Why!?” she yelled, taking a convicting step to him, “You collapsed on the floor, screaming, and you wonder why I call a fucking ambulance?” Her eyes were lit up green, glowering in their sockets. Jasper cooled down slightly, not wanting to deepen the pit of shit he was already in. “Sorry…” he said sheepishly, “When did you call?” Eliza, hearing the submission—perhaps even fear—in his voice, cooled down some herself. “About fifteen minutes ago,” she said, “Right after I dragged you into bed.” “You don’t think they’re a little…” Jasper trailed off. He knew what had happened. It was— “A little…what?” she asked. “Oh…uh…late,” Jasper replied, caught off guard, “You’d think they’d get here quicker, that’s all.” “You’d think,” Eliza snorted. “Probably got a horse-and-buggy system up here.” Thereafter, an awkward silence ensued. A truce of speech was instated—hard as steel and as unmovable as the mountains that surrounded the valley. They just waited, waiting for an ambulance that would never come.
The ambulance had sped through Goff Falls and was now cruising up the abandoned road. Pete Mills, the only man willing to go to the Inn for the sake of duty and duty alone, was hunched over the wheel. He looked like a bug-eyed gargoyle. Even though he was the only one to go, he didn’t like the prospects of going up to the Inn.
There had been murmurs around Goff Falls—his hometown, even though he had driven the ambulance from the Greenville Emergency Service Station, located in the neighboring titular town—of something going on. Something like those disappearances that happened every eleven years, and only every eleven. Yes, it was that time again; and the people in Goff Falls felt like they were deer during open season. Like everyone in his town, he had heard of the Inn’s past. Mum and Dad both had told him of the vanishing residents at an early age—of the brutal murders, when he was older. It was like some kind of fucked-up bedtime story, he thought; it was there to scare the bejesus out of them so that they wouldn’t go desecrate Steadfast. But he never listened to any of it. To him it was—and always would be, until he neared his last minutes—complete bullshit. Still, complete bullshit sometimes had a glint of truth in it, and this made him somewhat uneasy still as he drove between trees shedding their orange coats for the winter. As the white caravan sped up the old road, something appeared in the distance; he could almost make it out. Pete was “old” now—late forties seemed old to his lonely, contemptuous mind, anyway—and even with his thick glasses, seeing things far away was a challenge. He brought his massive gut over the steering wheel as he leaned closer to the windshield, trying to make out the object. It was growing faster and faster, but Pete still couldn’t make it out until it was too late. He at last saw it: it appeared to be a gold Chevelle or Bel Air. Its hood was up, and he would pass in it in about fifteen seconds. Pete ran his hand over his bald patch atop his head—a distracted, nervous gesture he did only when he was making a tough decision: this time, whether or not to pull over and help this person in distress. His mind was divided. Looks like they’re in it pretty deep, one side of his mind thought, Maybe the engine’s blown, or something. I really should stop. But Pete’s other side chimed in, But what about the people I’m sent here to actually help? What if one of them is dying? The other side retorted, Just make it quick, no need to spend too long there; just a quick check to see if they need a jump or some shit. Both sides agreed on this and he stopped beside the old car—it was apparent why Pete Mills never got the EMT of the Year Award. He got out and walked around the ambulance. He stopped and looked at a large man looking down at the engine. Pete walked over, as the large man looked over to him. “What seems to be the problem?” Pete asked as he came closer. “I dunno,” the large man replied, “It just stopped workin.” “Let me see,” Pete said as he reached the front of the car. The large man backed away and Pete looked around underneath the hood, rooting around in the engine like a pig in the French countryside, looking for valuable truffles. Pete had always had a thing for machinery. He had grown up on a now-defunct farm, where machinery was everywhere; thus—as expected—he had grown an obsession for mechanics. As a general rule, though, engines were his thing; he had spent countless hours as a teen either fixing up a tractor or tuning his first car—more hours than, say,
finding a girl to chase or having a social life. Pete was still looking around when the large man asked a question. “So, where you headin?” the large man asked Pete. Pete didn’t even turn his head; it was something that he would regret later. As Pete spoke, the large man pulled out his most favorite of weapons, weapons his associate preferred to call ‘toys.’ It was a short club, with a wooden shaft that lead up to a box-like head, an arcane knot on each side. The lines of the knots wrapped around themselves, causing an image that was akin to that of an optical illusion. He took off his jacket and wrapped around the square top. He didn’t need to kill this man. Yet. “Steadfast,” Pete said, oblivious to the man with the jacket-clad club behind him, “To the Cavaliah Inn. Gotta call that said somethin bout an unconscious guy. I dunno.” “Really?” the large man replied, matter-of-factly. It was almost as if they were discussing the weather or the Boston Red Sox’s chance at the World Series. “Huh, don’t get every day.” The large man weighed the club in his hands in a casual manner; Pete looked around the engine in large swoops, looking to and fro. “Ah, here it is!” he said as he looked down at the carburetor, “Your carbur—” The large man swung the club—not as hard as he could have, but it certainly felt that way to Pete—and struck the side of Pete Mill’s head. A crack, like the sound of wood snapping, came forth and Pete’s body went limp. He collapsed over the engine, head sinking down against the steel. Stop any help they send for, Joe. He had told him. Punish those who already have helped them. He had told him. Joe unraveled his jacket from his club; put the jacket on and the club back into it, and hauled Pete off the engine; he checked his pulse…it was slow and faint, but nevertheless there. He was still alive—that was all that mattered. He tossed Pete onto the ground. After he set aside Pete, Joe fixed the belt and walked over to the ambulance, got in it, and shifted it into neutral. In began to creep along, and Joe jumped out, using the steering wheel to guide it into the ditch. The ambulance stopped with a soft thud into the cold muck beyond, and Joe walked back into the road. He grabbed Pete, slinging himover his shoulder as if he were a tired three-year-old, instead of an unconscious forty-nine yearold. Joe then began to walk form Steadfast. Before he reached the final knoll, he walked off to the right, seemingly for a trees and bushes and nothing else. Yet he walked through and onto dirt, entering the hidden clearing. There his car awaited; Joe tossed his burden into it, got in, and started it. From there, he followed the old dirt road around Steadfast; a road that only three people knew about: his associate, himself, and her. She was the oldest of the three of them, and the one who started all of this. She was the one with ideas, him the one with the supplies. Joe? He was the undertaker; the servant. But he didn’t care. His associate was the one who gave him the life and the freedom—had saved him. Joe did whatever he bid, and he was all right with that. He drove in silence under the dark trees, now almost bare, and he thought about the night to come. Tomorrow night. Tomorrow night, they would bring Saman to life, and he would give them life. Tomorrow night they would complete the cycle. Tomorrow
night, October 31st, the ritual would be completed once more and all three of their lives ensured. Yet, this time, there would no longer have to be another ritual; this time, Saman would be alive and would be their king for infinity.
Jasper knew the driver—Pete?—of the ambulance would never come. He saw it, in a way: two blurry figures; one had a club—with some kind of clothing, maybe a shirt, wrapped around the head—while the other was pawing around the engine of a car. Jasper saw the strange knots on the club, even though the shirt covered it. The figure with the club rose it and Jasper watched as it struck the other person’s head; Jasper knew that it was Pete who was struck. He watched as the one who had the club put back on his jacket, storing the club inside it, and picked up Pete. And now they were waiting. “Well,” Eliza said as she interrupted Jasper’s thoughts, “I guess I’ll go now.” She turned when Jasper spoke. “Sorry about being such an ass about the ambulance,” he said, “Thanks for calling for it. It was good that you did.” Eliza turned back around. “Why did you freak out over it?” she asked, “Really?” Jasper didn’t know why he acted so violently—it was unlike him. Somewhere in his mind, JC floated forth into his consciousness. “I…I don’t know,” he said lamely, “I guess I was just…irritated. “ “Why, though?” she persisted. Somewhere inside Jasper, he felt a pang of anger, but he smothered it. He didn’t know where it came from, that anger. That rage. That splinter of him that could bloom into JC. “I think maybe it was because of the money,” Jasper said, “If I left, then it would’ve been a waste of money and supplies. And, I’d end up like Ed McMahon, sans the Trump saying my broke ass.” “And I would’ve won,” Eliza pitched in, somber and quiet and, above all, bitter. “Huh? No, no, wait—it wasn’t that!” “Yeah, right,” Eliza said as she turned for the door. Jasper then sprung into action, acting before thinking. He ran over to her side once she reached the door and put his hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and looked at him, eyes burning red and brimming with tears. “That’s all you care about, isn’t it?!” she screamed, “Winning it all; beating me out of the money! That damn money!” “No, no it’s not.” Jasper said in a soft, soothing tone. Eliza looked away, but Jasper followed her, “Seriously.” “Oh yeah?” she said, voice now cracking and a single, bold tear running down her cheek. She didn’t understand the source of her hysteria, what tripped the line to make her
usually cynicism-shelled emotions explode, but she felt her convictions and her lachrymosity justified, somehow. Jasper felt pain—so much pain. It seemed to hang over him like a dreary rain cloud, blow through him like a frigid wind on a cold winter day. This pain wasn’t physical in any sense, but it was a stab at his emotions, even at his sanity; he could feel the heat beginning in his eyes as well, salty tears beginning to force their way up, like enemy troops breaking through the barracks of masculinity he had set up. “So tell me,” Eliza continued, her emotions gaining strength like a firestorm, Jasper burning up in the process, “What would’ve happened if I was the one? If I had collapsed, screaming? Would YOU have called an ambulance? Would YOU have hung around and worried beside my bed, waiting for it? Would YOU have worried at all? Huh? And, once I was gone, then what? YOU’D have kept the money! YOU would’ve won the fight once again, right? And I…” she paused, trying to collect herself, Jasper taking the briefest of breaths between long periods of torture, “I w-woulda b-b-been bankrupt, and ki-icked outta m-my business, and…” Eliza then went into a combination of sobbing and high-pitched gibberish, hitting Jasper in the chest and sobbing. Jasper’s mind combusted, sorrow, anger, outrage, delirium circulated through his brain, intoxicating him, burning his up. He reacted the only way he knew when dealing with the pain of others: he threw his arms around Eliza, embracing her. It had been the same with his mother; he felt as though he had to be a sponge, soaking up their sorrow and holding it inside himself; and he was still waiting or the moment when he could be wrung out. Soon, her hands stopped hitting Jasper and she buried her face in his shirt, still weeping and gasping. Her body was hot against his. “It’s okay, it’s okay…” Jasper said, trying very much to defuse the situation. Tears now escaped their heated prison behind Jasper’s eyes, trickling down his cheeks. The enemy had penetrated the defenses, now running out across the battlefield of his face. And still the sorrow flowed into him, and still he accepted the pain, accepted the suffering, for, in his own masochistic way, it was the only way he could have slept at night. All the teachers he disappointed, all their hopes crushed callously. How he had failed to keep in touch with Vic, a friend through the thick and thin, through even the meanest of times, and he had been disowning bastard in the end. And his mother. His mother, who, even though she wore a smile and helped him in whatever profession and life he chose, really was disappointed in her son’s menial achievements. 3.7 GPA—he could have become an engineer, become a famous writer, become a professor. But he chose the paranormal route—the route of psychic energy, the route of ghosts, the route of mockery and failure. All this Jasper knew, just from the slightest touch, or the faintest of expressions, and yet none of this he ever looked at. He kept on looking at others—accepting their pain, trying to fix their problems, all the while letting his own mind slip…slip…slip away. Until now. “It’s all right,” he croaked, an cruel, clear epiphany settling upon him like a cold, brutal storm, “It’s gonna be all right…” From below him, Eliza spoke away from his shirt, her breath hot.
“No,” her voice trembled and cracked as she spoke, “It’s n-not! It’ll never be right! It’ll never be okay!” Something within his melancholy mind spoke. It’ll never be all right, Casper, and you know it. You can keep on a-runnin and you can keep on a-tryin, but sooner or later it comes back to you. Sooner or later, you’ll have to realize what a failure you really are. Sooner or later you’ll have to face your demons; have to look in the mirror and see yourself, not someone else. You can keep on a-wishin you were—you can keep on a-wishin you never were born the way you were, that you never got the touch—but, truth is, you’ve got to face yourself. Cuz, till then, ain’t nothin’ll ever be all right. “We’ll make it right, don’t w-worry,” Jasper’s voice was starting up now, trying to match Eliza’s—perhaps, he thought in a dark and secluded corner of his mind, trying to beat her again. It was also in this black hole of his spirit, he now realized, from whence his mind spoke the preceding truth. At that moment—at those thoughts—he had realized what self-hate was. And, ironically, he hated himself for it. Eliza continued to cry in his arms. To Jasper seemed that it would never end; that they would stay there for the rest of time, until Judgment came, the trumpets flourished, and all turned to dust. Jasper, you all ready are dust. Anybody so fake is dust. Dust in the wind. Jasper felt crushed, like an insect beneath a boot heel, a car in a compacter, a small animal beneath the unforgiving truck tire, like Kip; crushed, crushed, crushed he was. Tears poured freely from his eyes, he finally surrendering to their will. His thoughts were so dismal, so…black. Never had he experienced such depressing thoughts— thoughts so wretched, he didn’t even know if they were his own. But they had to be. Because they were so true. Eliza began to wind down, hiccuping and gasping for air. Jasper wound himself up—not stopping his pain, but hiding it, compacting it, saving it for another day. When she was all done, Eliza backed away from Jasper. Her eye shadow—what little she had— was now running down her cheeks and the whites of her eyes were still red, but otherwise, she was done—all of her pain had been successfully transferred to him now. Just a couple thousand more pounds added onto his shoulders; it was nothing, really. It was like this, Jasper thought: two tramps walk into a bar. One is your everyday thumb-rider: small pack, light gear, hardly a gun-ho, Into-the-Wild kind of guy. The other carries a complete survival set: a stuffed canvas backpack (the kind you buy at army surplus stores), rolled-up sleeping bag, twenty pounds of rice, skiing gear; the whole shebang and then some. The normal tramp looks over at the wilderness tramp, and says, “Dude, isn’t that load heavy?” The survival tramp looks over at the thumb-rider, his eyes puffy, spine bent, muscles torn to sinewy mush, and says, “Load? What load?” Eliza collected her scattered self—wiping off the trace amounts of running eye shadow from her face and breathing in slow, deep breathes. She calmed down and spoke. “Sorry…” she said, looking down, “I guess I just sort of…sort of lost it.” “It’s fine,” Jasper said. Load? What load? He paused. Then,
“I meant every word—it’s never been about the money, seriously. Whatever’s wrong here, we need to fix it.” However, from the back of Jasper’s mind, in that darkest of corners, a quiet and truthful little voice said, Yes, it has been about the money, you liar. You fucking liar; it always has. Jasper tried to ignore his self-hatred, but failed. What load? “Well…thanks,” she said, “I’m sorry about this.” She walked for the door again. Jasper stopped her. “I meant all of it,” Jasper said, “I’ll help you any way I can.” Eliza gave a weak, and terribly baleful smile; she did something, then, Jasper never expected: she leaned up and kissed him. It wasn’t long—only a second to an outsider—but to Jasper, it lasted as long as her crying had; yet he wished this to last until the end of time. For the first time in days, he felt happy. They stopped and Eliza looked into Jasper’s eyes. He leaned down for another kiss, but she stopped him. He felt crestfallen, suddenly. Pervert, his dark corner screeched. “That’s enough for now,” she said giving a smile, somewhat displacing the darkness within him, “I’ll see you tomorrow, outside at the entrance of the maze. Right around half-past eight?” Jasper nodded his head and gave a rueful smile. “Half-past it is.” “Good,” Eliza said, opening the door, and walked over to hers. She entered, turned back and looked at Jasper; she smiled again, cheeks flushing slightly, looked down and closed the door. Jasper did the same, his heart suddenly uplifted after what seemed eons of depression. It wouldn’t last long.
That night, as he slept, Jasper dreamt about Eliza. He was in a dark, mist-obscured field. As he looked around, he couldn’t see her; then there she was, in the twilight zone of existence, barely visible. She was of ghostlike composition, and turned to face him. They both smiled at one another. Jasper took a step towards her but an ivy wall shot up before him, leaves rustling, a susurration of laughter. Other walls like it shot up around him, reaching up towards the sky until he could not see any stars except the ones directly above him. Darkness surrounded him, infringing upon his vision. He knew where he was. The Maze. Behind him, Jasper saw the exit and the dark clearing beyond. And, with the shadows of the leaves, he saw two words and a punctuation mark: What load?
And now he saw that he had two choices to try to find Eliza: left or right. Jasper looked between these options and was torn between which to choose; the gravity of this choice seemed crucial. “Right, boy,” a voice whispered into his ear. Jasper snapped his head around to see if he could find the source of that voice, but he saw none. He looked at the right pathway—it seemed correct. He decided that it was prudent to follow the voice’s directions; he had no better ideas, anyway. He walked right. Jasper stepped out into the clearing. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he had entered the Maze—he knew he had been there long enough to become soaked with cold dew, to be so cold that he was shivering—but he knew that he was close, now. So close. The clearing, he saw, sloped upwards into a hillock. The small, somber outline of a lone wishing well sat at the top; déjà vu hit him like a well-aimed punch. This was it; this was where Rosemary died. This was where she was murdered. He walked up to the well, that same feeling of being watched falling over him. When he reached the well, Jasper looked around, but all he could see was the tops of the Maze’s walls. It stretched on towards the horizon, relentless until nothing else was visible beside virescent walls. Jasper turned to the well. It was a rather pitiful thing: its shingled roof had fallen apart in places, leaving the frame of it to become exposed to the elements. A cranking arm protruded from the right of a dowel. Ancient rope was tied to it, and descended down into the well. Jasper grasped the crank and began to turn it. Far down below, Jasper heard a splash as something was lifted off the surface of water.
Eliza awoke into darkness. She got up, and searched for the light switch next to the door. She found it and flipped it on. For a second her eyes hurt as they tried to focus. When they did, she was that she was in her room. Her laptop sat on her desk, open. It was, she could tell, dead. She heard a noise behind her and she turned. She suddenly felt very limp. Her heart stopped. The pair stood next to her bed, the man with flaming red hair, the woman with green eyes. He wore a simple white tee shirt and blue jeans; she wore a white dress. Both smile serenely at her. “D-Dad,” Eliza said, her voice quavering, “Mum?” “Hey there, sweetie,” the man with the red hair said. Eliza ran to them, hugging both tightly. Fresh tears leaked from her eyes. “I…I thought you were dead,” Eliza said. “We are,” said her mother. Eliza back away from them. “Then…why—how?” Eliza stuttered, tears still leaking from her eyes—albeit a bit more slowly. It was as if this unforeseen information impeded their flow.
“Eliza,” the man with the red hair said, “We don’t have much time to explain, so we need to you to just listen, okay?” Eliza nodded; the man smiled. “Good. Now, Eliza, you need to know that you have to help us. All of us.” “What…what do you mean?” Eliza said, the tears now gone from her eyes. “We didn’t die in a car crash,” her mother said, “We died here.” Eliza smiled, disbelievingly. “That’s impossible. Gram said—” “She said that so you wouldn’t know the truth,” said her father, “She always thought we found something…something bad. And we did.” Suddenly a red splotch bloomed around his chest. Eliza watched as it grew, running down his abdomen. The same happened to her mother as well, the white dress becoming ruined by the second. “Dad?” Eliza said, horrified, her voice rickety, “What’s happening, Dad?” “Please, Eliza, we’re almost out of time!” her father said, his eyes brilliant and his shirt soaked with blood, “Just promise us something, can you do that?” Eliza nodded vigorously, “Promise us you’ll stay here and help, no matter what. Promise us you will.” “I…I promise,” Eliza said, as she watched the blood drizzle onto the floor. Her father and mother smiled, he clapping a hand on Eliza’s shoulder, she running a hand down her arm. “Thank you,” her father said. Then, suddenly, heat rippled off he and his wife. Their skin began to blister, boiling like wax, hair drying and burning like tinder. Eliza backed away, putting a hand to her mouth and sobbing hysterically as her parents began to blacken like chicken roasted for too long. “We love you,” they said in unison, their clothes burning away to nothing. Suddenly, they burst into hot ash and coal, falling into smoking piles upon the floor. Their faces were, for a moment, still intact, orange charcoal effigies, and then they, too, crumbled. “NO!” Eliza screamed in protest, her voice shrill, weeping at her parents’ cremated remains now upon the floor, “NO! NO! NO!”
Date: April 20, 1921 Dear Journal, I don’t have much time, so this will be quick. Today, Rosemary Johnston, a little girl, was lost. We have searched high and low, but found no trace. Furthermore, Billy…Billy died. A falling limb struck him and he died instantly. We can only thank God that it was quick. Everybody here—including the residents and myself—are searching for her. For Rosemary. I must leave now.
Date: May 1, 1921
Dear Journal, Today, across the room from mine, Linda was found dead. She killed herself. There is nothing else I can say; the news has shocked the Inn and the town.
Jasper reached into the bucket: a rickety, tattered thing that was damp and dark from water. The rope, which had carried it upward to the surface, was coming undone and was torn in some places; it was a miracle that it had not broke on the bucket’s way up. Inside the bucket, Jasper found a wooden box with a scrap of paper inside a corked bottle tied to it. Jasper reached for the bottle to uncork it, when heard muffled screaming. ‘NO!’ was the monosyllabic word he heard repeated again and again and again. It came from behind him. Jasper turned around, and saw a door sitting at the base of the hillock. Jasper stared at it, picking up the box and vial. He walked to it, the screams getting louder. As he got nearer and nearer, he saw something glint on it: A7. Jasper stopped before the door, and grasped the handle. And then there he was, standing on floor A. His muscles felt tired; his shoes and pant legs were cold and wet. He looked down and saw the blades of grass and clumps of dirt sticking to his shoes. His skin felt as though it had had ice rubbed all over it and then stuck in an oven. His cheeks stung and burned; his brow felt no better. His breathing was heavy, as if he had just run a marathon—or competed in a triathlon. His lungs burned from running. His hands, like his toes, felt stiff and frigid. He looked around wildly at his sudden change of environment, his heart pounding. What is dream is reality, and what is reality may be dream. It was a sudden, frenzied thought—and it made sense. He didn’t know whether or not he was in the Maze, on floor A, or still in his room behind him. Then he heard the scream again, and he didn’t care. He had to help the owner of that scream—Eliza. He thrust the door open. The lights were on inside the room, and Eliza was hunched over, crying and pointing at a spot on the floor in front of her bed. For a wild second, Jasper though he saw a pile of smoldering char and ashes. The Sins of the Child shall be repaid in the burning of the Begetters It was gone and he hurried over beside Eliza. He dropped the box and vial, grabbing Eliza by her arms, shaking her. Jasper didn’t even realize the box hitting the floor with a dull thud or the vial smashing; he only saw Eliza and only hard her screams, and that’s all he cared about. “Eliza!” Jasper yelled, “Eliza, what is it?!” She stopped screaming and stared at Jasper blankly. It was a dead, flat gaze that stirred fear inside Jasper—he thought he never experienced such a gaze before. It was
like watching a frail loved one in a hospital bed, and then hearing the chilling, monotonous, high-pitched deathnote of a flat line. Then tears followed again and her face contorted in misery again. It was like trading a train ticket to Hell for a permanent residence in Purgatory for Jasper. He pulled her tight as he had only hours ago, and waited for her ache to subside. Jasper accepted the poison into himself like the good host he was. Load? What load? “It’s okay,” Jasper cooed, Eliza once again hiccuping into his shirt—one he had changed after she had left earlier. “Just let it all out.” Eliza did, shuddering and sobbing as Jasper tried his best to absorb it; not letting it get into her again. He had yet to know why he felt this way—sort of responsible, as it were—but he nevertheless did. Perhaps he was compensating. Compensating for his shortcomings—for his failures. It at least gave him a feeling of reason. Eliza wound down again, but it was obvious she was still distraught. He could feel its pull within her. “What happened?” Jasper said, softly. Eliza was still in his arms, but had stopped crying. She faced the spot on the floor beside her bed. “I…” she tried, but couldn’t quite muster it. She tried again to build up the courage to utter the words; this time, she did. “I woke up, and…and my, uh, parents were here. They’re dead and….and—” Her voice’s pitch shot up at the last word, and before she could break out into another fit of weeping, Jasper stopped her, resting his forefinger on her lips. “I know,” he said, calmly, and suddenly knowing it all, knowing everything. Burning. Death. Promises. The culprit of these atrocities, however, was still unknown to him. Yet another failure. “I’ve lost family as well.” He thought of Grandpa Dean again. Eliza looked at him, a deep, surprised look in her eyes, and then she was kissing him, their body pressed against one another. She slid a hand around his neck, her every touch electric. Jasper was caught off guard for a moment or two—it came on so sudden that he hadn’t an idea how to respond. Then he placed a hand in the small of her back, pulling her closer. And there they stood, if only for a moment, lips and hearts locked. Eliza and Jasper slowly made their way to the bed, he landing down upon it’s downy surface. In unison, they uncovered themselves, and, for that fragment of time at least, they felt not pain nor misery. Jasper awoke, Eliza’s bare back pressed up against his chest. Her skin was soft, and, even though they both had gone a few days without bathing, her hair smelt pleasant, like flowers in bloom. His right hand and her left remained interlocked, as they had been earlier that morning. They had lain there, together, underneath the blue blanket on the bed, talking, only wanting to know another. Somehow, Jasper’s failures were gone from his mind—he had cheated the house in a game of poker, and won big-time. But for how long? Jasper watched her slow breathing, and finally realized how ironic it was. She and himself; the perpetual enemies, the opposite teams in a competition of money and rivalry. It was ironic, but as he now though about it, it seemed all so…so right. His opinion would soon change.
He could have stayed like that for a long time, he believed; watching her and taking in the light smell of her hair. Yet all things end—he knew this from experience—and she soon stirred. She looked back at him, and smiled. Rolling around to face him. Her breasts pressed against his chest as they kissed. “Well good morning to you, too,” she said, smiling. There was true happiness in it, but Jasper still thought she looked tired. Terribly tired. A look of such exhaustion made him want to take it all away, to just ease her suffering, even if he had to pay dearly. What load, after all? “What time is it?” Jasper said, never looking away from her emerald eyes. She looked at the small watch on her left wrist—the hand of which was still interlocked with Jasper’s right one—and raised her cinnamon-colored eyebrows. “It’s just a bit past noon,” she said, and looked into Jasper’s cool eyes, “We’ve overslept.” “Apparently,” Jasper said, leaning up. Their hands let go and he rubbed his neck—the bliss was suddenly gone, the bubble popped, as if sucked up by this horrid building. This Godforsaken Inn. It was as if it consumed positive emotion, leaving only the worst human feelings: fear, anxiety, despair, and anger. Eliza leaned up and ran a hand up and down between his shoulder blades, the muscles beneath his skin tense, oblivious to the Inn for the moment. Jasper looked up at the Blue-Eyed Elk, who sniggered, “So much for that.” He looked over at Eliza, who had a look of deep concern on her face. “Are you okay?” she said, “Was I too—” “No, no,” Jasper said, “You were…great. I’m okay—honestly.” But he wasn’t. He looked at Eliza, she still concerned, and gave her a small kiss on the cheek. He then turned around, his legs hanging off the side of the bed. He picked up his boxers and pulled them on. He felt Eliza slide across the bed and place a hand on his shoulder. Jasper glanced at her over his shoulder, her soft face close to his hard, angular one. “Are you sure?” Eliza said. “Yes,” Jasper replied. Now she was going against his grain; now she was pissing him off. He had all ready told her, why the fuck should he have repeat himself? He pulled his jeans on; the ends of their legs still felt damp. How lovely that was. He got up and buckled his belt, and tossed on his tee shirt over his lean abdomen. Eliza, meanwhile, found her bra and snapped it on. She pulled her underwear on and proceeded to her jeans. She felt very awkward now that things were back to normal; now that a fresh layer of gloom had been laid upon them, fresh and hot—courtesy of the Cavalier Inn. As Jasper made his way for his jacket, he saw the box and smashed vial. He bent down and, gingerly, plucked the rolled-up piece of paper. He gently unrolled it—it was brittle from years with its container—and read it. I haven’t much time, so I’ll be brief. Dearest Reader,
If you are reading this, then we are surely dead. We have tried everything, yet it seems we shall stand alone in this battle. This is one of of the two (the other we use tonight) and I hope they do not get this. If they do, all is lost. I cannot explain what is going on; only that this is as much help as I can give. Just use this when it’s time. You’ll know when. JC JC, once again. Jasper didn’t know who this man was—or how he could be the same JC as this. In his dream— And there it was, so obvious. It was a dream, and only a dream, not a vision or an ‘experience.’ He was feeling anxious about his new dog, Bo, and he didn’t want him to suffer the same fate as his previous dog, Kip. And, seeing as though JC could’ve very well been himself, in the fact that he was responsible in Kip’s death—because the leash had slipped out of his grip—then his mind was merely reflecting his unconscious anxiety. But this note, this box, they were real, not a dream. And Jasper knew—just knew—that he had to get out. Had to escape. He couldn’t be the hero, couldn’t stop them, whoever they were. Because, if he did, he would die. This he knew. “What’s that?” Eliza asked. Jasper looked back at her; she was fully clothed. He passed her his note, and examined the box. It was a strange box, made from a dark wood that matched the color of cream-less coffee and weighed about the same as a single-volume encyclopedia. Vertical, black metal ribs bound the chest, dotted by rivets the size of dimes. It had no lock on it, nor did the line where the bottom half and top half joined seem visible. Jasper examined closer and found a hairline that was midway between the top and bottom; a barely discernible crevasse matching the deep tone of the rest of the box. He also saw the line follow along and continue over the bounding metal straps. There was no handle on it either; it was just a rectangular box, one with no way to open it without a tool or hammer. He tried his best to pry open with his hands, yet to no avail; it remained stubbornly shut. As far as Jasper could tell, the lock was on the inside and there was no way to open it—so how could he? Later that night, he would, and death would follow. Eliza spoke. “What is this?” “I don’t know,” Jasper said, “But what I do know that something’s wrong here. We should get out of here. Today. Now.” He turned and faced her. “Don’t be foolish,” Eliza said, shaking her head slightly and furrowing her brows, “We can’t; it’ll take at least a day to take down the cameras, not to mention the amount of time it’ll take to clean out our rooms. It’s just not possible, and we still have to get out of here. “And do you believe this shit? Really?” she held up the note, “‘You will know when to use it.’ Yeah, right.” Jasper knew she was just creating excuses—knew she really was scared, and knew she really wanted to help those here. Yet all he could feel was cold anger. Cold rage. She looked at Jasper, who met her gaze stonily. “You really believe this shit, don’t you? Jesus, Casper, I’ve considered you many things, but never an idiot.”
Jasper said nothing, the Inn magnifying his already bleak emotions, glutinously feeding upon his reason. He gave her a dark, angry look, one that made her green, fiery look pale in comparison. His cool, stratosphere-colored eyes pierced her heart with icy spears of resentment—no, more than just her heart, but her soul. She dared not maintain eye contact, so she looked down at the frail note in her hands. Several, terribly silent minutes passed, where Eliza expected Jasper to hit her, or, worse yet, leave the room and never look at her again. She looked back up at Jasper, who had stopped his icy scowl and was now examining the far wall of the room, as if wanting it to suddenly become set ablaze. Or freeze. “Let me see the box,” she said submissively, and she hated herself for it. Jasper passed over the box. “Fine,” he said, any emotion—benign or malignant—lacking in his voice. Eliza looked the box over, lifting the box and looking at it from different angles, although she really didn’t care. Anything to get her mind off him. As she looked it over, Jasper continued to look at the far wall, the empty pit that was once his heart filling with flaming and chilling rage; he tried at that moment, albeit weakly, to try to find the source of his loathing. He could only see one reason; one he had all ready seen before. The Inn. The ancient, malformed, and perverse beast that surrounded them, sucking any sense of joy from their souls. “Here,” said Eliza, passing the box to Jasper. She looked at her watch. “It’s halfpast.” “Yeah,” he replied, holding the firmly shut box in his hands and looking at her, “What about it?” “Well, if you want to be leaving, you better get on it,” She looked at him with a cool, apathetic look. If he was going to leave her, the bastard better get on it. Yet she knew—godammit, she knew—it was all a façade. “Fine,” Jasper said, “I will, seeing as though you won’t believe me.” “I don’t,” she said, remaining calm, almost appearing to be a beautiful, marble statue. And just as cold. With that, they both turned away from each other. Jasper exited her room and slammed the door shut, so hard that it let out a painful crack as it hit the frame. Eliza bowed her head, and let in a sharp breath, her body shuddering. A lone, solemn tear fell from her cheek. She watched it fall to the floor, alone as she would be. Alone to face death.
The Sabbath Rite
Jasper was packed by 5:00. He sat on the bed, looking at all his clothes and belongings. They were organized in the suitcase and messenger bag—the box from the Maze sitting on top of them—all organized and ready to go, like troops in formation, awaiting the signal to move out. Jasper, the general, didn’t know if he should go—he had spent the last three hours in deliberation as the sun died in the forlorn, overcast sky, the mountains like tall, dark assassins bent over their victim. What about Eliza? He thought now, What if she needs to get back to town? There was an answer to that: Just go to the garage when you get back to town and explain the situation. But I’ll leave her all alone. That’s what she wants…all of the money to herself. And my cameras? I still haven’t got them taken down. Give her the codes. Without doubt, she’ll accept them. Just more help to her. What about David and Rosemary? I need to help them. Help them how? You’re as powerless as anyone else, and, even if you had any power, you would know what to do with it. If you stay here too long, you’ll just become like them. Well then. If there’s nothing I can do, I might as well leave right now. Yet still he hesitated. And still he relapsed into argument. Jasper got up, and searched thought his suitcase. He found the piece of paper that had the codes on it, the one which came with the cameras, and prepared to leave the room, messenger bag and luggage ready to go. Looking back, he saw David’s diary on the desk. He walked over and picked it up, examining it. He tossed it back onto the desk, glancing up at the Blue-Eyed Elk, so regal, so prodigious. “A gift for you, you fuck,” Jasper growled bitterly. The elk continued to look down upon him. And I hope you enjoy my gift, it seemed to say smugly, Many a sleepless, lonely night to you, Casper, ol’ buddy. Jasper turned, exiting the room, never to enter it again. He knocked on Eliza’s door. She opened it and Jasper gave her the paper. “What’s this?” she said, numbly, taking the paper and unfolding it. She saw his packed belongings. He really had meant it. He was leaving. “My cameras,” he said, “You can have them. I’m sure they’ll help.” “Uh…I really shouldn’t…” Eliza said awkwardly. For a moment they were silent; Jasper expected her to accept his cameras, Eliza expected him to confess his commandeering of hers. Yet neither said what they both wanted to really hear: “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay,” Jasper said, without much sympathy, “Really.” “Well, um, thanks,” she said, “I’m sure these will help.” “No problem,” he said and turned to leave.
“Wait,” she said and he turned back. Eliza stepped forward slightly, extending her hand, unsure of what to do. For a fraction of a second, she seemed to consider walking to him, but instead she moved back to her original spot. Her hand fell to her side. “I’m sorry about this morning. You don’t have to go.” Jasper was torn mentally, but remained resolute in his voice and decision. Too many hours all ready had been wasted on deliberation. Now was no time for second thoughts. “I have to,” he said, “I’m sorry.” She hung her head, not in fear or in anger, but in simple disappointment. “Will I see you again?” she asked, staring at the floor, her voice a depressing tone that almost broke Jasper’s heart. Almost, for a tiny, cruel, peevish voice kept on telling himself that if would stay here, he would die. And, it was this same despicable voice that reported the final score: Eliza: 8, Jasper: 2. Eliza wins with quadruple the score. “I don’t know,” he said, “Maybe.” Eliza looked at him, a species of hope in her eyes. “I hope so,” she said. “Me too,” he agreed. And Jasper left her there, uncertain—even doubtful—that they would ever meet again. But fate is a spinning wheel, and it dictates that those that are meant to stay together meet each other again and again. Until death do they part.
The departure, though rough, wasn’t as hard as the drive away. Night had completely fallen now, the road entirely black—save for the dual cones of light shining out from the front of the car, overlapping on the road like a Venn diagram. Jasper constantly thought about Eliza being alone, the note and the possibility he was turning an eye blinded by fear to something which deserved further inspection. He felt as if he were attached to a bungee cord wrapped around his waist, the other end attached to the Inn. As he drove, the cord got tauter and tauter, and tighter and tighter around his waist. And the further he went, the harder stretching out that cord got. He knew that, sooner or later, it would snap him back in a massive whiplash, and he would hurl into the Inn once more. And, what was in the box? When would he have used it—what if the only hope Eliza had was in this box? What if he was condemning her to death? “Sonny, you overanalyze stuff way too much,” said a wavering voice from behind him. Jasper slowed, engine quieting, and looked in his rearview mirror. A woman dressed in baggy clothing—a golden shawl and blue robes amongst them—with a puglike face and beady gray eyes sat in his rear seat. She wore a pale yellow bandana atop her head and many necklaces hung from her neck—pearls and chains looped around her gizzard-like neck, flaps of skin hanging from her throat in liver-spotted folds. There was
a faint blue aura about her. She was like an ancient gypsy, a crone of an archaic era; and, somehow, she looked familiar. Jasper turned around and looked at the back seat. Nothing. He looked back into his rearview, and saw her there, waiting. Her face was serene; it was as though the fact that she had just materialized in his mirror wasn’t outside of the ordinary. “Let me guess,” Jasper said, “You’re here to stop me from leaving?” “Yup,” she said, bobbing her head like a bird. “And you’re going to tell me how to open the box?” “Un-huh.” Still bobbing, still avian. “And, let me guess, you’re a spirit?” “Gee, sonny, yur right on the ball, today, aren’t yeh?” she cackled like radio static. ‘Aren’t’ sounded like ‘ahh-nt.’ “Okay, so,” he said, peering into the mirror, “Who are you?” He had stopped the car by now. “Mary Gordon,” she said, “Though that is irrelevant. My time is limited,” she said serenely, “You need to go back and stop him. Stop the evil man.” “Who is he?” Jasper said, puzzled. Then it came to him. “What? JC?” “Aye, John’s his name,” she said, “In the box is what’ll stop ‘em. There is but a few words ye need to say, and the box’ll open. The words are: Losch sem Linow. Didja get that?” “Yes,” he replied, turning the words in his head over and over again. Losch sem Linow, Losch sem Linow, Losch sem Linow. “Good,” she said, “Remembah, do not say the words until yer in front of John. Now turn around, and stop em, Sonny. Stop em befoah he gets the girl.” Jasper watched as she disappeared, fading like fog at dawn, blue aura the last thing seen of her. He revved the car back up, turning it around and sped back to the Inn, now ready to stop John before he got the chance to get Eliza. But unknown to Jasper, Eliza was already in his clutches, along with three others. He was now waiting for the fifth sacrifice to come running into his—no, their—open arms. Waiting, so the Rite would be complete. Jasper pounded down on the accelerator, and the car jumped ahead. The bungee loosened.
Eliza felt very alone. As soon as Jasper was gone, she had installed his cameras and got down to business: she watched them, with no activity for long time. Had to keep on working; workin’ hard for the money—who did that song? Tina Turner? She didn’t know, but, as Eliza worked hard for her rather aloof paycheck, the night fell swiftly and silently. Still, nothing for a difference in the screenshots. Then, a change.
Jasper’s last camera started to get something. Shadows moved around in the attic. She enlarged the shot, watching the shadows with keen interest and anticipation. She tried both the thermal and night filters, but both failed to capture anything. The window went black suddenly and it was clear the camera had tripped out. Battery failure, possibly. Cursing under her breath, she grabbed her flashlight, a batter pack from the box of supplies next to the desk and left her room. The hall of floor A was lit up, of course, but it still felt as though it was dark, somehow. A8’s door creaked open, unexpectedly—not by itself, she tried to tell herself, not by itself. Inside, darkness engulfed the room like a thick fog of night. Eliza—her heart pounding at the abrupt, unexplainable opening of the door—flashed her light into the room. It landed upon a thin, lonesome book on the top of the desk in the room, instead of the mutant abomination she expected. Cautiously, Eliza walked into the room and picked the diary up. She looked it over, and the sudden idea came to her that the door would close on her now and the mutant would pounce out of the shadows, sinking its yellow claws into her back. Or, perhaps, its regal antlers. This never happened. Eliza left A8 unscathed, closing the door behind her. She pocketed the thin book and left floor A, ascending the stairwell to the ballroom. Her light was a solitary, lonesome beam as she walked across the ancient floor of the ballroom, tiny red dots marking where her cameras sat; from there, she ascended to floor C. The smell of must was choking as she walked down the hallway, the sense of being watched heavily upon her back. She kept on expecting something to pop out from corner and run at her, shrouded in some kind of deathveil, wailing, its arms raised high above its head. “Chose not leave, then?” it would screech, “Chose to stay the course, help these pathetic lost souls, get the money? Well, I’ll show you, you bitch! I’ll show you for letting him go!” This, also, never happened. Eliza made to the end of floor C, and ascended to the attic, stairs uttering nary a word of complaint. She reached the last door, turned the knob and entered the room. It was, like the rest of the Inn from the ballroom and up, pitch black. She flashed the beam throughout the room, catching brief glimpses of the long forgotten items. It felt very much like a catacomb, a tomb in which a dead King’s earthly possessions were stored. She turned and faced the camera above the shelf next to her. The camera had no red light coming from its tiny bulb—not even a flash of distress. She climbed up a few shelves, and reached over the top shelf, her arm stretching and she grunting. She pressed the power button and the red light flashed on—the battery wasn’t, after all, dead. From behind her, as one could easily see on the screen of her laptop three floors below, a shadowy shape loomed. It grabbed her and covered her mouth with a wet, pungent cloth; she tried to scream, tried to struggle, but just breathed in the deleterious fumes all the more. He mind went higher and higher…and…high… Eliza fell limp, eyes rolling backward and shutting. Her flashlight thudded as it hit the floor, rolled around, the beam spinning. The shadowy figure caught Eliza’s falling body, carrying her away. The flashlight shone against the pinstriped pant legs of the assailant, the legs walking to the door off to the side of the room; the same one Jasper tried
to open just a few days previous. The sound of a key being inserted into a lock. The tiniest click of the door being unlocked. It creaked open; an eerie, flickering glow captured a face for just a second. Dark skin. A blue felt bowler. Beady bear eyes. It was the face of Mr. Rimer, the representative of Gordon Architecture.
Date: October 5, 1920 Dear Journal, Today was…interesting. I woman checked into he Inn today, claiming to be a psychic. I think that’s just silly, but she proved it. She said she saw a man—in room C11—who would start a riot and have to be escorted out. She was right: a man from C11 started yelling and pounding on the walls because his room service was slow. It was the last straw for him—wife had left him, corporation was going into bankruptcy, teenage son had gotten a bun in some girl’s oven. We had to take him out of the Inn, forcibly.
Date: October 11, 1920 Dear Journal, I cannot pen my grief in simple words. First thing this morning, as I waited at the front counter, going over the scheduling for this month, Mary Gordon comes running down the double staircase, still in her eccentric, blue-and-gold night gown. “Oh, Mr. Stonewall!” she said when she reached the counter, “Oh, I just received the bad news! I’m so sorry!” I asked what the matter was and she claimed Ma and Pa were dead. I dismissed her, polite as possible, and went back to work. Unknown to myself at the time, she had been correct. Later on, I receive a call. It’s Joyce. She’s crying and her voice is raspy; I tell her to calm down and tell me what happened. She does, but I already know. My legs lose their strength, feeling like the rubber of an automobile’s tires, except molten, and I fall to my knees. Before I know it, I’m crying; my sister follows suit, crying herself. I, at long last, ask how, and she says that their disease—the reason I came here for work; so I could get them the operation they needed—had gotten them. The funeral is for the 17th. I’ll leave tomorrow. After I received the horrible, dreadful news (and finally regained my manly composure), I went to Mary. We talked about her ‘talent.’ I can’t quite remember all of it—my
mind is still out of order and hasn’t kept a good log of the day’s events—but we did talk. I left her and came here, my room, to pack. I have packed and am ready to leave, first thing tomorrow, via automobile. I still don’t believe it, but they’re dead and Mary was right. Maybe this rubbish is real.
Date: October 20th, 1921 Dear Journal, Today I came back from the funeral. It was a somber, silent thing; it rained steadily for the entire service. I watched the drops roll off the caskets as they were lowered into the ground, a yawning mouth of earth, consuming the vessels of death. I gave my eulogy the day before, as did Joyce. When I got back, I ran into Mary Gordon again. This time she told me of a dream she had. She said she received a message from a little girl, one with sandy locks of hair and a rag doll. She said the little girl told her a man was doing bad things to people from the Inn…and that she was one. Mary also said the girl said that they needed to stop him right away or something horrible is going to happen. Something more than just murder. The man I knew instantly. JC. John Cavalier; the owner of this Inn. I don’t quite believe her…yet, it almost makes sense. His strange personality, why he was here when the disappearances happened—everything fits. But, still, I doubt this some. It seems ridiculous, impossible. Yet possible. I’ll think on it.
Jasper drove as fast as his tires would allow for contact with the earth back to the Inn, the engine’s roar breaking the night’s peace. It was defiant and proud, the bellow of the Hemi, the roar of a lion proclaiming his dominance over his territory. Jasper’s mind concentrated on driving, and that alone. No other thoughts entered as he sped along—not the note, not the box, not Eliza, not death. He drove over—all but jumped off—the last knoll and saw the Inn in the gloomy distance. He pressed the throttle for more and the car gave it gladly.
Date: October 29, 1921 Dear Journal,
I have decided Mary’s right. John came today, and I’m sure something’s going to happen, and I should stop it. We’ve already have plans in store. I hope that I’m wrong on all of this. I met a man—Joshua Carver as well—who Mary says can help us. He owns the gun shop and has opposed the Inn ever since it was proposed. He told me he made something special that can help us. Let’s hope it does.
Jasper slammed on the brakes when he hit the gravel of the Inn. It crunched and sprayed in different directions as he did. He got out with the box and his flashlight. He entered the Inn.
Date: October 31, 1921 Dear Journal, Tonight’s the night we stop him. Joshua Carver has already hidden the second one and we’re getting ready to stop him. John Cavalier, my employer. This all seems like sheer madness, but I cannot help but get caught up in it. Ever since Ma and Pa died, I know I’ve lost my aim in life. I have nothing better to do, it seems. I don’t know how, but Mary says she’ll tell me when it is time. The box we don’t need is hidden, in case we fail. I don’t know, now…this all seems so wrong for some reason. Joshua is knocking. Time to stop John. Time to finish it.
Jasper ran into the lobby, mahogany box underneath his arm, flashlight raised, looking around wildly. The lobby had not changed since he left; no body parts adorned the furnishings, no blood spattered had on the wall, no evil mastermind had been doing his cruel work in here. He jogged up the staircases and went to Eliza’s door; the door creaked open after his first, light knock, revealing a vacant room. Jasper saw the open laptop, and walked over to it; his attic camera’s feed filled the entire screen. He saw the attic, but nothing was there. Then he saw it: the faint flicker of light beneath the door. Jasper knew that’s where she was, and suddenly he looked up at the Blue-Eyed Elk. It looked down upon him, almost smirking, horns so regal, so haughty, its blue eye looking into his soul. I’ve won, boy, it said—not seemed to, not appeared to, but actually spoke within his mind. Jasper tore it off the wall, flinging the jewel-encrusted painting across the room. It hit the opposite wall, busting, canvas tearing, gem shattering.
“We’ll see about that,” Jasper breathed heavily, thereafter running from the room, mahogany box under his arm, now entering the darkness beyond floor A. The beam of pallid light from his flashlight swung back and forth unsteadily. He ran though the open doorway to the ante room, the air smelling slightly of dust and mildew. He paused, panting; Jasper swung his flashlight about the room, looking to see if there was anyone else in there. There was no one. Briefly, he glimpsed the regal elk, its body a gray skeleton with bulging blue eyes, teeth sharpened to fangs, ready to tear his flesh from his bones. I’ll show you, it growled, No one disrespects my authority! Jasper’s light moved on before the elk could show him anything. The doors to the ballroom sat ajar, as Jasper saw when his flashlight reached them. He took in a deep breath, opened them and ran through the ballroom. Dark shapes that were the tables and chairs sat against the wall; a larger one crouched before the stage. The piano. His flashlight was focused upon the open doors of the floor C stairwell. Jasper slipped in between the gap left by the open doors and ran up the stairs, stumbling twice as he did. Perhaps he did it out of fear of the elk striping his muscles off his body; perhaps he did it out of fear of something else. On floor C, one of the double doors that led to the ballroom stood slightly open. He shoved both open, brass knobs slamming into the floral walls, the knobs breaking through the ancient drywall, plumes of dust flowing from the holes like mist from dry ice. Through the doorway a man with dark hair ran, sprinted, flew, his breath a guttural pant. He paused, heaving. His heart thundered in his ears, drowning out almost all other sounds, except for his own footfalls. To his right, from the corner of his eye, he saw a little girl. Rosemary. He turned his head and looked at her; she stared back, eyes like white marble, face like cold stone. Red gashes outlined her features, and she held on to her rag doll tightly. She showed no emotion; her lips were a straight, scar-like line, her eyes vacant, her body motionless. They stared at one another for a number of moments, both having the same expression upon their faces. Rosemary broke into a run down the hall; Jasper pursued, yet she was gone. He continued the marathon the rest of the way, alone, expecting to see her again. But he didn’t—it was, in fact, the last time he would see her. Jasper opened the door to the attic stairway ninety seconds after entering floor C, and flashed his light up the flight of steps. He began to ascend them, slowly, stealthily. He entered the attic a few moments later and inspected the room with his light. Nothing. Jasper walked into the room further and looked around, still—something was there, he knew. He walked over to the door and saw the light coming from beneath the door and through the keyhole. It flickered and wavered faintly: as if on the verge of extinguishing completely, yet having the persistence not to. He reached for the knob to open the door then stopped. To his left David stood, silent. He seemed to be looking at Jasper, even though his eyes could not do so. And, while he said nothing, Jasper felt as though David was pleading him not to do something. Maybe open the door. Maybe to have even came back.
But he had no choice. Jasper turned the knob and entered; as soon as he did, he felt something hit him hard on the back of his head. The box flew from his grasp, sliding, and he hit the floor. His vision went from flickering yellow to black. Jasper awoke, and couldn’t move. He tried flexing his arms; they were slow, dumb trunks of flesh and bone connected to his body. It took him a moment to realize that he was bound by some kind of heavy rope. Where he was took Jasper a long time to process, too. He saw the world as if through opaque glass, the colors melting and fusing in a delirious haze. Soon, the fog that had been muddling his mind (consequently numbing his pain, too) lifted and, with a wince, he realized that he was one of five people, arranged in a circle. One was a large man to his left: middle aged, with a bald patch and thick glasses. He wore a white EMT uniform—his mind whispered Pete. To Pete’s left was a man he had already seen before, at the Goff Falls Motel. He had a large, pitch-colored beard that came down from his nostrils and cheeks. A balding pate that matched the beard in color—not quantity—clung desperately to his head. What was his name? Maury? Mikey? For the moment, Blackbeard seemed as good as any. To Blackbeard’s left was a large man in a plaid shirt, which of whom Jasper had already met. It was the short-order cook, Roy, of the High Street Diner; his stubble-shaded face hung over his beefy body, his breathing like that of a sleeping giant’s. And, to Jasper’s right, a slight figure with flaming hair sat, her face obscured by her igneous locks. Jasper, his mind now operational, recognized her. The last was Eliza. Last of what? he thought. Jasper then noticed how his own head ached. He felt a kind of sickening pressure against the back of his eyes, as if his skull had been filled with too much air, like a tire, like a balloon, and soon it would pop them out of their sockets to relieve the strain. Dizzy, he looked downward and saw that, within an inlaid circle, a pentagram sat. Both the circle and insignia were made of a kind of shiny black stone—obsidian, onyx, something. A Celtic knot—like that of those on the square-headed club he had seen the day previous—lay within the pentagram, carved into floor itself. It wove around itself in maroon grooves, showing no beginning or end, a snake swallowing its own tail. It was the same design that had resided on David Stonewall’s chest, exposed for the entire town to see. He also saw that Eliza, Pete, Blackbeard, Roy and himself each sat at one point of the pentagram, he sitting at the topmost point, it seemed, across from a gray stone basin between Roy and Blackbeard. A piece of worn wood had been place on top of it, to prevent anything from falling into whatever was in it. On the plank, a large brown book lay with a crimson bookmark in it. A silver knife and goblet sat next to the book, red gems were inlaid into the goblet and, though not visible from his seat, Jasper knew the knife must have had the same ornamentation on its hilt. Jasper tried moving his hands and feet again, but it was no use. He understood, on some vague yet real level of his still rather foggy mind, that this was not a place he
wanted to be. The idea occurred to him that this was some type of Halloween prank; that Ashton had really decided to go through with Supernatural Jackass, and he would come out any minute now, laughing, the camera crew zooming in to capture his expression. But, if that were the case, then what about the knife? Jasper sighed, looked up and saw that there was no ceiling, but rather a pitched roof of glass, a grid of iron supporting the panes. The silver disk of the moon shone through the thick clouds. Seeing Glass. Jasper looked around; hundreds of candles flickered in the gloom. They covered tables, shelves, and even some of the floor, their wax having melted over time and making them stick together and to their surfaces. The candles had become one mass altogether, like sea anemones building upon the dead coral that was their parents. On the walls, other pentagrams and knots were drawn in white chalk. The knots positions varied; some were within the pentagrams, others were by themselves, some were arranged in triangles, others standing alone. They also were different in complexity; some looked like rings from a brainteaser, others looked like overlapping teardrops, making a sort of Venn diagram and some were of extreme, indescribable complexity. Jasper heard a groaning and looked to see Pete awakening, shiny head rearing. “W…w-where am I?” Pete said, trying to move his arms, “Hey, what the fu—” “Easy, Pete,” Jasper said in a hushed tone, “Be quiet. You’re in the Cavalier Inn.” Jasper wasn’t sure how he knew this—it was conceivable that they were many miles away, in a torture shack of some kind, awaiting a serial killer’s smiling knives and cannibalistic hunger. But it seemed unlikely—that they were far from the Inn, that is. Pete looked at him, beetle brows furrowing. “Th-The Cavaliah Inn?” Pete said, “How—why—what—who the fack are ya? How do ya know my name?” “I’m Jasper Garrison,” he said, trying his best to sound calm, “And it’s a long story.” Roy and Blackbeard stirred, almost simultaneously. Both Jasper and Pete looked at the men as they awoke. “Where the hell—” Roy murmured, looking up. He saw Jasper. “Hey. It’s you. Ghost Boy.” “Yeah,” Jasper said dryly, “It’s Jasper. We’re in the Cavalier Inn.” “The…The Cavaliah Inn?” Blackbeard said, looking around like a trapped animal, “Wait, nuh…nuh, nuh, nuh, I can’t be heah. I can’t be heah.” “Hold on a second,” Roy said, “Pete, Murray, why are you here?” Pete made a sour face and a scoffing noise. “How the hell should I know, Roy?” Pete said in a raucous voice, “Why don’t ya ask Mr. Answers heah, Caspah.” “It’s Jasper” Jasper corrected. “Whatevah,” Pete said, “All I remembah is stoppin and takin a look at some guy’s broke-down cah. The next thing I know, I wake up, hogtied in this room with Caspah—” “Jasper,” Jasper corrected again. “—whatevah, and my head feels like it’s gonna fuckin explode.”
“Same here,” said Roy gloomily, “I got hit by somethin—I think it was early this morning. Got into the diner to start preparing and somethin hit me while I was measure coffee grounds. Now, I’m here.” “I can’t even remembah what happened,” said Blackbeard—Murray, “I just remembah comin to the Motel and—” Eliza woke up. She looked around, in a haze. “Am…am I still in the Inn?” she asked. No one caught the alliterate pun. “Yes,” Jasper said, “This is Pete,” he nodded to Pete, “And this is Roy,” he nodded to Roy. All three men remained silent. For the moment, it seemed, their previous problems had been forgotten. “Where are we?” she asked looking around, then rectified herself, “I mean, which room? And what’s up with this place—somebody buy out the Crypt Keeper’s Tomb for Halloween?” “I don’t know,” said Roy, “But I got a feeling that somethin’s wrong here.” “Ayuh? Ya just got that?” said Pete. His sarcasm didn’t seem to fit the current situation, but Pete never struck Jasper as the kind of man who knew how to talk seriously. Or positively. “I don’t like it,” said Murray, “I’ve nevah liked this godfuhsaken place. All those stoaies Gramp used ta tell me…” Murray’s stout frame shuddered. “Auh, shaddup, ya pussy!” Pete growled. “There ain’t nothin goin on in the Cavaliah Inn! It’s just a buncha bullshit!” “Really?” Roy said, “What do you call this?” Pete was bitterly silent. “I think we’re in the room next to the attic,” Eliza said to Jasper, ignoring the other three. “You know, that door?” The click of a doorknob being turned stopped Jasper from replying. They heard the squeal of hinges and watched as three cloaked figures entered from a door on the far side of the room, a good ten or so yards away. A smaller room sat beyond the door, and Jasper saw within its gloom two wooden boxes and a third cut off by the door frame. They stood upright and looked very much like coffins to him—too much, in fact. On these boxes, the same design on the floor before him was drawn in chalk. The figures strode in, hoods of their black robes up, concealing their faces in a mask of shadows. One held a cane to support its body and to keep walking at the same pace as the others; it limped heavily. The one with the cane took a place at the altar, while the other two took places that formed a wide V from the altar. One stood to Jasper’s left, the other to his right; and now he noticed their color of their hands. The figures standing on either of Jasper were younger. One set of hands was white, pale—even waxy; the other, chocolate colored. Both hands were healthier looking than the milky, gnarled, spotted hands of the one at the altar. Bruise-colored veins bulged outward from the back of its hands grossly, curving around the bones like purplish vines around gaunt posts. The cloaked person at the altar spoke. “Dark father, Lord of Death and the ruler of the Afterlife: hear me,” the voice wavered and warbled. The color drained from Jasper’s face; it was the voice of Mary. Mary Gordon.
“You,” Jasper said, struggling to rise, suddenly feeling himself rise; but the figure to his right stopped him, pushing him down with a pale hand, “It’s you—Mary Gordon.” The hooded figure at the altar looked down upon him, observing Jasper with unseen eyes. It lifted its gnarled hands and pulled back the hood, the others following. The pug-like face of Mary Gordon rose outward from the shadows of the hood, like a corpse from the depths of a dark body of water, like from the void of a grave. She looked at Jasper with her gray eyes and wrinkled face and said, “Boy, my name isn’t Mary Gordon. It’s Mary Cavalier.”
“Cavalier?” Eliza asked, “Like…like this Inn? That Cavalier?” The man to Jasper’s right spoke up. “Hey, you’re finally catching on!” “John,” Mary Cavalier said, a mother chiding her son with an amorous undertone. Jasper looked at John and fear befell him of a much larger magnitude than he ever had experienced, as memories flooded—those from the far past, those hidden from him. It was the man from the scrying crystal. The one from the dreams. The dog-killer, the torturer, the smiling skull. “Sorry, Mummy,” he said, looking down at his feet, concealing a mirthful smile. “J…John Cavalier,” Jasper said quietly to himself, voice quavering in fear and in…and in awe. “JC.” “Hey, psychic boy got it!” John Cavalier, pointing at Jasper, said with incredible, childish cheer. It was as though he was talking about a baby who had just learned to walk. Jasper suddenly felt very stupid. “But…but how?” Eliza asked looking around, confused, and saw Mr. Rimer to her left, “Mr. Rimer—what are you doing here?” “I prefer Joe, thank you,” Mr. Rimer said. Business associate. Gun handler. Grandson of a Shaman. Clubber of EMTs. Jasper should have recognized him sooner. “You’re the guy whose—” Pete said, starring at Joe. “Yes,” Joe said, overpowering him, “And you’re the stupid bastard who pulled over.” Pete flushed in anger. “Oh…” Eliza said, the epiphany flooding her mind as her thoughts finally connected, “Oh God.” “What?” said Roy and Pete at the same time, in the same nervous voice. “Yeah, wot?” said John, making fun of their accent. He seemed to enjoy the whole dark experience than the others; to them, it was business, but to John it was more than that. This was…this was play. “I know what this is…The Celtic symbols…the pentagram,” Eliza said, her face drained of all color, “This is Samhain.” The word sounded like Sah-win. “Well, ahn’t we smaht?” John said, mocking the Maine accent again. “And it only took us a day and a half to figure it out, too! Well done!” Eliza ignored him.
“The dates,” she said, looking at Jasper and the other bound helpless in the circle. “They all revolve around October 31st. Today. The end of harvest for the Celts. Halloween. They would practice sacrifice at this time of year, to appease the gods…except it would be crops. Or, maybe in radical cases, livestock. But never have I heard of human sacrifice.” By now, she was talking to herself. “Wait just a muthafackin-sonofabitchin-moment, heah!” Pete said, voice growing high and panicky, struggling to get up, “ Human sacrifice?! Like, killin people?” Joe came over and put a hand down on Pete. “Petie,” John said, wagging a finger, “You really should watch your language. Tsk-tsk.” “Is that what’s gonna happen here?” Roy said, “Are you guys fuckin crazy, or what?” “Some would say that,” John said, his grin wide, “But I prefer ‘mentally unsound.’ It’s a much…milder term.” Eliza ignored them all; her mind was temporarily lost in revelation. Lost somewhere out there, in a strange flow-state. “Nuh, ya can’t,” Murray said, “Ya can’t kill us! Ya can’t!” “Oh, we won’t—,” said John, but he was cut off by Eliza. Everyone looked at her as she spoke. “On this night,” she said, “They would supposedly give sacrifice to the Celtic lord of death—Saman,” she said, “But Tina always said that Saman never existed—there was no such god. And even still, she never mentioned human sacrifice in any way.” She looked at John, Joe, and Mary, “So where’d you get the idea for human sacrifice?” Eliza seemed totally removed from the concept that she may soon be killed in a barbaric rite. “Mummy?” John said. By today’s standards, Jasper surmised, he was a few gears short of a full engine—just a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Bust out the morphine, boys, this one’s a wild-ass; and then he remembered: I Am JC “For centuries,” Mary warbled, and Jasper saw the middle-aged woman she had once been; the one who took—basically stole—her child from the asylum. “Ever since the first of the Celtics came to be, my family has celebrated Samhain—which became what you fools call Halloween. Most of our people merely celebrated the end of the summer cycle, and enjoyed our harvest; however, my family was…special. We knew the will of a superior being, and it asked for the one thing we gave it on the night when the Veil was the thinnest: blood. This did not change when we came to America to escape persecution by the ‘holy’ church. “As a child, we would sacrifice crops and livestock to Saman instead of going out and making fools of ourselves in little costumes. We would make a circle—much simpler than this, mind you—and place the offering in the middle for our lord. I carried on the same tradition with my son John…even though my straight-laced Christian of a husband, Robert Gordon, despised it. Course, he took a liking to the whiskey as well, and was of mind to beat me and poor Johnny. Once, he knocked Johnny out cold against the cast iron stove. It really was too bad he died from that nasty dog attack—especially since we had
just gotten Spot not a week before. Police said they had to use dental records to identify him.” Mary smiled. Jasper felt a chill go down his spine, and not the quick kind, either, but the lingering kind; the kind that constantly reminded you of what revolted you, constantly shouted out why it was there. “But, by 1915, my acting career on Broadway had…,” Mary said, “Well, let’s say dissipated and I desired to be young again. Broadway loves you when you’re young, but the second a strand of hair turns gray, they give you the boot. Or the secondary role. “John’s mind was deteriorating at an amazing rate by then—a result of the knocking around Robert gave him—and that fool Hampton, you know what he did?” She sounded like an elderly woman dishing out the latest, steaming pile of gossip. Jasper was somewhat glad she was so eager to rant; he could feel the ropes binding him loosen as he slowly worked against them. “Nothing!” Mary cried, “He said there was no cure for my son—said he was a looney for life. But I guess I showed them, didn’t I?” She looked satisfyingly at her son, as if she had succeeded in some epic task; however, Jasper thought she had failed miserably. “And, as for Joe…well, my beautiful son here saved him from the fire, didn’t he?” She smiled at her son radiantly now, and John seemed to bask in it…the way a Venus flytrap would bask in insect-swarmed sunlight. “My aunt, Adriana, found us the cure—an ancient ritual called the Rites of Saman. This,” Mary pointed to the ancient tome beneath her face, “Is the book she got it from. The Volumes of Susurration. “When she, John, and I first did completed the ritual, we used a recently killed body from a morgue—not a hard task, considering Adrianna was a mortician herself. But we have found that using more people—and those who are still alive—works much better. We’ve found that when the blood is fresh and still pumps through their body, it makes Saman much, much happier.” There it was, again. That lingering chill. The rest in the circle surely felt the same way, Jasper surmised, or were only silent in shock. “The first were a group of men from New Orleans—bigots that burned down the shop of poor Joe’s grandfather,” Mary said, “The problem with them, however was that there were only four. We needed a fifth and…well, Adriana and I were not very young and John needed so, so much.” Mary smiled. “My aunt was very surprised when she found out she was the fifth.” Jasper’s throat went dry, the lingering chill returned. “A number of years later, another sacrifice was required; John’s mind began to rot again and I was aging even faster.” Mary examined her gnarled left hand. “It seems that instant beauty held within it a steep price. Only Joe was lucky enough to stay in top form—opposite when we had saved him. And the lawmen of New Orleans were looking into the situation; we needed to hide. That’s when we found out about this little wonder.” She spread her frail, ancient arms wide. “Steadfast, Maine located at the end of human-
ity.” She pointed at Jasper. “It was all so perfect, you see; we could do just about anything up here and we wouldn’t have to deal with the authorities nearly as much—if at all. And once my wondrous son convinced the Selectmen to allow him to build this hotel, we were ready for Samhain yet again. Conveniently, five men were hired to cut down those trees for the road up here, and as soon as the 31st came, Saman’s feast was prepared. “Unfortunately, the first sacrifice in New Orleans didn’t cure John completely, and the loggers still weren’t enough. He still had his impulses—like that little girl. Yes, we’ve learned how to control those nasty thoughts, now, haven’t we?” She looked at her son, who nodded. He looked like a little boy who had just been told he was a big boy, now that he had started to use the potty instead of messing in his pants. She smiled, her yellowed teeth small and pointed. “Yes,” John said, “I had so much fun with her. She was so naïve, so trusting. She actually thought I as going to give her those caramel sweets.” He gave an eldritch chuckle. “You should have seen the look on her face when I stuck my knife in her chest. It was so…” He took in a deep, sensual, nauseating breath; Eliza’s features became dark and foreboding—the expression of the oncoming hurricane. “so lovely.” “You monster!” Eliza yelled, struggling to rise up. John pushed her back down; she glared up at his smiling face, her green eyes burning with fury. “I’ll take my sweet time with you, dearie,” John said, eyes brightening within their sockets. He ran a long, spidery finger along her jaw. “And you’ll scream—just like her.” Jasper looked away from John’s pale, grinning face…and saw the box, lying on it’s side against the wall. A small glimmer of hope lit up within him. “Losch sem linow!” Jasper said, and when the box didn’t open, he continued, “Losch sem linow! Losch sem linow! Losch—” Mary stopped him with her watery voice. Just then, he realized it was she who had prescribed the words. “Quit it, boy,” she said, “It’ll never open. Those words don’t open anything.” All hope was now lost to Jasper, as he was secured upright once more by Rimer. Without a doubt, nothing could save them now. “That’s enough fooling around,” Mary continued, “I’ve rambled too long, as it is. Time to get back to business; our lord hungers for the final feast… “Saman, hear me! We bring you sacrifice on this holy Samhain night. Give us life and we shall give you yours, on this most heavenly of eleventh appeasements. Our reap hath included one for thyself! Let thee consume them and anchor thy existence in this realm, the monodecatet of powers unleashed, release our servitude for equal reign alongside thee. Let thy former victims be thrown to the winds of oblivion, forgotten evermore! “The Sabbath rite hath begun!”
“Saman, Consort o’ the Crone, hear us! Open thy maw and accept our fresh harvest!” John and Joe then withdrew from their cloaks drawstring bags. They reached into the bags and pulled out handfuls of white powder. They spread it around the circle, and when the powder encompassed its perimeter they returned to their original positions. Mary spoke in a high, loud voice. “We’ve purified thy doorway, and now we make thy wine—an enticement for thy grace!” Joe then walked to the altar, picking up the goblet and the silver knife. He gave John the blade—which had the gems as Jasper surmised—and they went around the circle of sacrifices, cutting Jasper and the other’s hands. Eliza yelped as blood came forth from her palm, trickling into the goblet. Joe finished with Pete, who was the only one to struggle. “Hey, what the—stop! Stop it! Stop it, ya fackin—” Joe came around with his fist and struck Pete across his face; he stopped talking at once. Jasper felt a bitter happiness blossom somewhere in him. “Dark Father,” Mary said, lifting her head, “Join us! Drink these spirits of sacrifice!” Joe walked to the center of the circle and poured the blood into the grooves of the knot carving. The carving went from its dark red to a bright vermilion; Jasper watched as the sanguine liquid disappeared, sinking down into the floor—almost as if the floor was thirsty. Joe poured again and the blood flowed throughout the parched grooves once more. He had to find a way to stall this, Jasper knew. The more Joe poured their combined blood into that symbol, the more Jasper got the feeling that something was coming—that the heavy door it had been trying to knock down for years—no, eons—was being slowly dismantled. The last rivets which had held it captive were popping out, a tinkling laughter echoing out across stone floors. “Dark Father, I summon thee! Join us in truth, join us in—” “I want to know how,” Jasper interrupted, keeping an eye on the knot as it faded back to its pale, dark red. “How…what?” Mary said, biting back the desire to scream at him. “How you stopped the others from preventing this,” Jasper said. Eliza looked at him, as if to say, “others?” He ignored her. “It seems to me that this entire process takes a long time, and I think they could’ve done something.” The other four sacrifices looked at Jasper with curiosity and fear of what would be said next. “And I’m really not in the mood for watching you talk to no one. So unless you’re gonna actually DO something, I suggest you stop screwing with us and let us go.” The people who shared the sacrificial circle with him all gave him a look of ‘what the hell are you doing?’ Jasper did not even twitch at their glares. “Or, what, am I supposed just think
some mystical fairy will pop out of the air? Will Tinkerbell just poof into existence and take off my head? You know, I don’t think there really is a Saman.” “Shut your mouth you insubordinate whelp!” John said, swiftly bringing the silver knife to Jasper’s throat. It was still warm and wet with blood, sharpness of its blade stinging his vulnerable larynx. “John, let the atheist be,” Mary said, although it was obvious that she was trying to hold back the order to have Jasper’s throat cut. “The lamb’ll see the mighty wolf soon enough.” John retreated and Mary focused her gaze on Jasper. “Boy, you have no conception of what you soon shall witness, ” she began. Jasper, for the most part didn’t listen. He was buying time; he felt the ever-weakening spot in the rope binding his hands. Maybe there was still hope. Maybe… “Our Lord cannot be summoned immediately; he does not just grant us his grace on a fleeting whim; he must be offered proper compensation for having to be in our flawed presence.” said Mary, “And, besides, those fools were nothing—that manager, David, might have been the strongest.” “Oh, yes, he was fun,” John said, smiling, “Quite the riot! He brought a gun— made by that friend of his, the gunsmith Joshua Carver. David couldn’t see a thing without his glasses, though. Poor chap.” He laughed. “You sewed his eyes shut, you bastard!” Eliza said. “Well, we couldn’t just have him see our little operation here, now could we?” John said, and then walked over between Eliza and Jasper. Jasper stopped working the rope binding him as John stooped, looked between the two, flashing his pearly teeth. “And if you thought that was bad, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken. I’m going to have the time of my life this time around. This time, there will be no lawmen or Christian nutters to get in my way.” John rose up, turning away from Jasper; he worked the rope yet again. “Besides, it’s not like you’ll live to see much—once we extract your blood and make the final toast, you all will be long dead.” “Wait,” said Eliza, paling, almost translucent, “You drink blood?” “Yes, the blood extends life,” Mary said, speaking up, “But only for a short time, and John has needed it the most over the years. Sadly, though, we had to drive out most of the people of the town, since questions had been raised and we had a part of our Lord each within us, growing. To be apprehended would be the end of all of us.” “So what better way to clear the town than to instill fear in the area?” Eliza said. “Precisely,” Mary said, almost pleased, “If the locals had a reason to abandon the Inn, then we would have all the privacy we needed to complete the process—our Lord’s nativity. Yet we needed a way to stay out of view from the residents. So, we went into an eleven-year hibernation; when we awoke, Steadfast was as you see it now: abandoned and desolate. “We’ve seen many things change each time we awaken from our monodecaannual slumber; the invention of the television, the changing styles of automobiles, how people act towards one another—such lovely, growing, compounding, exponential hate and ignorance. Such brutal crimes you now act out upon one another, yet how numb you all really are—it is so ironic. I am so glad our Lord will purify the human race.
Jasper felt the sinister force of that word: purify. Such a beign word it was, now bent to such a malicious intention. “You five are the last we shall need—after you, the Sabbath Rites of Birth shalt be completed and our Lord shall walk the Earth, his infantile steps from our cradling arms. The power of the eleven shalt be unleashed.” “What do you mean?” Eliza said, “Who, or what, is your ‘Lord?’” “All in good time, child,” Mary said. “I get why ya took them two,” Pete said, breaking the triangle of Eliza, Mary and John speaking. “They wuh idiots. But, why us? Why me, Muhay and Roy?” John looked to his mother. “Mummy?” He sounded like a boy asking to play with a certain, special toy. “Yes, you may explain to them, my son.” John looked wildly at Pete, as a tiger kitten would look at a small, fat bird. “Petie, didn’t you know?” he cooed, “You decided to come up here. Out of everybody in the crew at the Carrowford dispatch, you decided to come. You should have known better.” Pete looked astonished. “So why me?” Murray said, “I did nuthin—” “Wroo-oong!” John sing-sang, pointing at Murray, “Your warning to Eliza landed you here—and, if you want to fight about it,” John said, watching as Murray struggled, “Then you have only to remember your daughter. What’s her name—Janie?” Murray looked very pale as he stopped trying to move. “Don’t worry, nothing’s happened to her…yet.” “And me?” Roy said, “What did I do that makes you lot so concerned?” “Roy, you gave information to Casper, here,” John said, jabbing a thumb back at Jasper. Jasper himself started to feel the rope give and loosen even more; his wrists had almost an inch of space between them. “You told him to go to the library,” Joe said, his voice like the body-stealing aliens from a science fiction movie Roy had seen; emotionless he was. “You all now must pay for your wrongdoings.” He poured more blood into the knot. Jasper paused, realizing something. “What about Martha?” he said, “What did you do to her?” John gave a scar-thin smile; Roy’s jaw went slack. “You bastard!” Roy growled, “You…You didn’t!” “She wasn’t very much fun,” John said, as if the puppy he had just gotten ran away from him each time he yanked on its ears. “Wouldn’t scream. Mentioned how her mother had prepared her for this day. But, still, I enjoyed it myself enough.” “No!” Roy yelled bending over and suddenly weeping, “Mum! No!” Roy looked up at John, red-eyed. He got up to his feet, but Joe set the goblet on the floor next to the knot and shoved Roy back down, with a reasonable amount of effort. “I’LL KILL YOU!” Roy bellowed, fighting against Joe’s powerful hand, “I’ll strangle your fuckin neck you…you bastard!” John only laughed; Jasper was almost free now. Just a little more—
“Oh, what’s this?” John said, looking over at Jasper. Jasper’s arms were moving rapidly; they suddenly stopped and he looked at John, who walked over and looked at the nearly-undone rope around Jasper’s wrists. “Do we have an escapee? Let’s fix this right up.” John then knelt down and tightened the ropes holding Jasper so much that they cut into his skin. John got back up and looked to his mother. “I think it’s time the infidels found out. Before the veil hardens.” “Yes,” Joe agreed. “To continue…” Mary said as John left the circle. Joe emptied the last of the goblet into the knot and backed out of the circle. “Dark Father, I summon thee! Join us in truth, join us in equalization, join us in this mighty feast! We offer you these sacrifices, in your name. Come, reap our harvest, drink our wine, eat our food. Saman, Lord of Death, King of the World Yet to Come, we summon thee!” An eerie, whistling sound began to fill the room. It was like a strong wind blowing through a crack in the wall; the temperature began to drop and Jasper felt a shiver go down his spine. Gooseflesh rippled across his skin, his nerves seemed to scream in confused terror. Thereafter, he saw something he would never forget. From the knot at the center of the pentagram, a shadowy substance flowed upward; it was an unnatural, black mist, rising into the air like smoke from a burning city. It formed a column, the black fog twisting and wrapping around it, becoming darker and darker with each second that passed, and slowly something corporeal was born from it. Unknown to Jasper, he was the only one—beside the ceremony leaders—who saw this magnificent, horrific, astounding event take place. The other sacrifices simply looked around, waiting for a reaction. This is ridiculous, Pete thought, now what? Am I going to disappear? Jasper watched as the mist began to take its true form, billowing and rolling, becoming what appeared to a human shape. The fog whirled around the human shade, cloaking its frame, spinning until it almost reached the point of becoming a twister. Then, it stopped, the mist falling away from the being now created of it, evaporating. The moonlight shone down on the back of the new thing’s cloak, highlighting a simple trinity knot; the design was a shimmering crimson, shining in the pale light. The cloak itself was sable silk, which flowed and billowed like the mist, terribly elegant in its motions. The hood was drawn over its head, concealing its face; its back was hunched over, like an old man. “S…Saman,” Mary said, and Jasper thought that, in the dark glow of Saman, her face was younger, her skin tauter, her eyes brighter. That was when he recognized her; she was the actress from an old black and white movie his mother used to watch. It was Beauty Before Age, and he remembered that on AMC, when his mother watched it, that it said that movie was Mary Cavalier’s last and only. Jasper understood why. Mary bowed, her head coming close to the floor; John and Joe did the same. “Our Lord and Father,” Mary said, her voice warbling, “We humbly welcome you.” The creature dubbed ‘Saman’ looked around from beneath its hood. Jasper saw hidden eyes fall on Pete and stop, hungrily. “He would make a fine appetizer, my Lord.”
Saman looked at her and nodded solemnly. Pete, meanwhile, stared at Mary and the empty space she spoke to. “Yes,” Mary coaxed, “I believe he would the best to start with.” Saman nodded again—affirmative. “Yesss.” It’s voice was low and serpentine, like a cold breeze on an autumn day; the kind that flew up your back and hugged your abdomen. Saman unveiled one of its hands from the cloak. It was thin, white and gnarly, making even Mary’s hands seem young and healthy. From its hand, dark mist came; a cylinder was formed, going both down and up, curving like a gradual S. When the top of the S-shape stopped, more mist came outward, curving downward. From that mist, a scythe of dramatic, outlandish proportions appeared, its steely blade glinting in the wavering light of the room. Saman swung the weapon around—just missing Jasper’s head by inches—and raised it high above its head. Jasper opened his mouth to warn Pete, but it was too late. Saman brought down the scythe. Pete screamed. It was a sound which would leave none of their memories any time soon; Pete now saw the horrific phantasmagoria and the blade it had stuck through his chest. He brought his head back and screamed again, writhing, fighting, failing, like a rat pinned by a long nail to the floor. As Saman pulled the blade out of him, Pete felt a excruciating tearing sensation erupt all over his body, as if his skin and muscles and fat and all other cells were being slowly picked apart. Then Saman pulled the rest of the blade out swiftly and Pete was gone. Jasper watched this, the graceful, smiling curve of the blade shooting out of Peter Mill’s back, then it being removed just as quickly; yet neither blade nor Pete’s shirt were stained with blood. As Pete fell limp to the floor, Jasper saw that the blade of the scythe was covered in a silvery haze, like a gaseous mercury, like as if the blade were now made of dry ice and not deathly metal. Saman brought a pale hand and ran it along the scythe, its palm inches from the smiling blade. As it did, the glowing plasmatic substance was removed, like a rag taken to a bloodied sword. When the sickle was clean, an orb of shinning material floated above Saman’s outstretched, wizened palm. Saman brought the ball of hoary light to its face, but Mary touched it’s arm to stop it. “He would be the best for you, Lord,” Mary suggested, pointing at Jasper, “He’s our special gift to you. A savory delectable for your pleasure only…we would not want you feasting only upon fat.” Saman stared at Jasper with its invisible eyes, observing and calculating—and, it seemed, measuring him up as a butcher would a calf for veal. Jasper couldn’t help but stare back into the shadowy depths of the hood, prey entranced by a predator’s gaze, only hoping that he looked defiant. “Yesss,” Saman hissed. It looked back a Mary, and brought the orb to her face; in its light, she regained her youth. Suddenly, the ball of light flew into her face and she was young again—her skin was taut and soft, her hair was a light blonde and she no longer looked pug-like. She was, actually, quite attractive—perhaps in the same way a lioness was.
Saman turned and faced Jasper, its silky black cloak swaying and twirling, graceful like a hawk’s wingbeats. Saman took a step towards Jasper and swung the scythe high above its head. This is it, Jasper thought, I’m going to die. At the last second—just when Saman brought down the scythe and death seemed imminent—Jasper’s life flashed before him. All his childhood’s strange experiences, brought on by his genetic deformity some called a touch; pointless school rivalries, relationships, and other miscellaneous drama; his friends, Nigel and Angela. It seemed, to Jasper, that when you’re about to be cut in half by a scythe-wielding death lord, that you wouldn’t have time to think. But Jasper’s mind shot thousands—millions—of thoughts. I wonder how Nigel and Angela are. Enjoying the fine Maine coast as I’m about to become cutlet of Jasper. Will they ever know? Will they find my body? Probably not. Jasper watched as the scythe came down—at slow pace, it seemed. His mind resumed its flashback: Eliza and he fighting in college, graduating, starting HGS, Nigel and Angela leaving. The call, the long drive up here, the interesting town folk, Billy (the boy who needed a lift) the installation of cameras, the stealing of cameras, the returning of cameras, David (“the Gaunt Man”) Stonewall, the night’s stay here, the dreams. Eliza and him kissing. Their night together… He skipped something. He rewound his recollections—as if they were on a tape in a mnemonic VCR. He stopped and remembered. The man in the High Street Diner—Jasper stopped again. The man who was reading the newspaper. His baseball cap and plaid shirt…It seemed so familiar… “Ya just have to call my name…” he had said early one hot morning, “Always remember, I’ll be there for you…” “GRANDPA DEAN!” Jasper bellowed, his last hope hurled onto the chopping block for Fate’s consideration. He closed his eyes, waiting for impact as the scythe came down.
Time had frozen. Jasper opened his eyes and saw a freeze frame. The scythe was less than three feet away, blithe blade on the downswing. Jasper stared, stupefied, as Saman held the scythe as still as any statue; in fact, everyone else in the room was a statue. Nobody moved— even to breath. They just stood or sat there, motionless and frozen. Except for one. “How’s m’ boy?” a kindly old voice asked, and Jasper turned to his right to see Dean Garrison in his jeans, plaid shirt, and baseball cap. “G-Grandpa?” Jasper asked. It occurred to him that he had spoken very much the same way early one morning long ago.
“Yes, Jasper, it’s me,” he said walking over, “I’m glad ya remembered our little talk way-back-when.” He untied the ropes and Jasper got up, his nerves tingling with electricity. “Grandpa…” he asked, “What the hell is happening?” “I bought ya some time,” he said simply, “Not a lot, though—it’s sorta bein chahged on ya cahd.” “Okay,” said Jasper, “Should I try counting the ways this is impossible?” Dean smiled. “Ya’ve got a few moah tricks up ya sleeve than ya think, Jasper,” he said, “But this one is short-lived, so I need ta tell ya a few things. Fust, let me tell ya that that Saman thing ain’t the Angel of Death.” “It’s not?” Jasper asked, rubbing his wrists. He looked at Saman, frozen—somehow—in time and space. “Sure as hell looks it to me.” “Trust me—I’ve met the real deal, and he don’t look nothin like that.” Grandpa Dean said, “Black and scythes aren’t his thing.” “Really?” said Jasper, “Please tell he doesn’t look like Brad Pitt.” Dean gave a puzzled look, momentarily cracking his visage of solemnity. Jasper sighed. “Never mind.” “All right,” said Dean, “Secondly, that thing—its nothin more than a pretendah. It’s a trickstah, Jasper; a fake. It made ‘em think it was a real god—gave em that book to make em think they could live forevah, when all they’d get in the end was it killin them all. And it can be killed like anythin else.” “Killed,” Jasper said, “What, can I blow up monsters now, too?” “No,” Grandpa Dean said and pointed at the box on the floor, “Its in that box. That’ll kill em.” “I can’t open it,” Jasper said, “The words don’t work.” “Ya don’t need words,” Grandpa Dean said as they walked over to the box, “Pick it up.” Jasper did so and Grandpa Dean clapped a hand onto his shoulder. He looked into his grandson’s eyes, their irises the same shade of blue. “Ya have a gift, Jasper—you can do things ya’ve nevah even thought ya could do. Its in your blood, Boy; ya wuh born with a highah puhpose in life, ya wuh born to do this. Ya can do it—open the box!” Jasper looked at it. “How?” he asked. “I’m nobody special, Gramp. I’m just a guy with a problem in my head.” “But ya’re not, Boy,” Dean said, “The potential inside ya, Jasper, the things ya can do, the goodness in your heart—these things make ya special, not broken. I knew when Alicia had ya that ya wuh meant fuh greatness; now all ya have to do is take it! Focus, Boy!” Jasper did; he focused on the box, focused on whatever lay within it, and saw the silhouette of something. His head suddenly felt pressurized, as if it were a tire filled too much with air, and a tiny click came from the box. The cover sprung open; inside, a silver cross with a ring around the intersection of the arms and central body and a brilliant re-
volver made of the same metal laid together, like divine lovers. “Ya did it! I toldja ya could!” Grandpa Dean’s voice faded for a moment as Jasper watched the world melt away and scenes unfold around him. First, he saw a man—pale, haggard and suffering from stubble that was nearing a beard. He was talking to an older pastor—who had a beard of salt and pepper and a look of exhaustion similar to that of the man holding the box—in a church. The Steadfast church, though Jasper never knew how he deduced this. The man had presented the pastor with a box—the box Jasper held now. The pastor sprinkled water from a large vat and spoke a few words—though his voice was not audible; in fact, everything was as silent as a winter forest The vision faded and opened back up showing the same tired man with box. He was in the middle of the maze, scrawling his note as fast as possible, the next reader of it destined to discover it by means of some kind of trance. He stuffed it into the bottle, and sent it on its way down to the dark depths of the well. The vision faded and opened up into the sacrificial room Jasper was standing in before all of these visions. Five sacrifices in all, each at their respective points of the pentagram. Jasper watched as Mary—who, though plagued by wrinkles, seemed a lot younger—chanted and invoked powers beyond human design. When Saman was summoned, Jasper watched as the cloaked demon raised his scythe and stabbed the torsos of the victims with its blade; the first was a woman with deep brown hair. Yet, when Saman impaled her, Jasper saw the ghosts of the other victims in her place as well—it was as if they were watermarks of annual printing upon that space. He saw, among the many there, a portly man in a gray suit, a skinny man with shaggy blonde hair, and—the most concerning to him—a redheaded man. It was the same with the rest of the sacrifices: people from different times and generations dying from the scythe, their souls going to Mary John, Joe, and Saman. Yet the last one—David and several poor others—were not impaled. Instead, Saman knelt before them and pressed a hand to their chest. Most seemed too stupefied to move, but a n elderly woman with white hair—Beverly Chams, Jasper somehow knew—fought, long and hard despite her ancient age. All met the same fey end, though: Saman brought its hand back and sanguine fluid flowed outward from all pours and openings in their bodies. Blood. Wine. Or both. Jasper then was in a metal chute on some kind, without even the time for fading to this vision. He was moving—downward, by the feeling of it—swiftly. He looked upward past his feet and saw the small preparation room adjacent to the sacrificial chamber, dwindling away as he slid downward, faster and faster and faster. He looked down, and saw other bodies sliding down the chute with him. Then, suddenly, a tawny yellow light reflected off the aluminum sides of the chute. Jasper turned a round corner and saw a great, roaring fire at the bottom. A furnace—undoubtedly the one in the bowels of the Inn—hungry for flesh. He saw that the other corpses slid in the fire easily, the flames eating them greedily; then he, too, was consumed by the fire. He screamed and rolled around, skin boiling, hair incinerating, eyes melting like Jell-O in a microwave—hot, so hot…
He rolled out onto the floor of the sacrificial room, spared from the flames, his body intact. Jasper looked up and saw the box on the floor and Grandpa Dean standing next to it, regarding him with sad eyes. “Ya saw it?” Grandpa Dean asked, “Ya saw em do it?” Jasper nodded and arose; his breath was labored and he felt somehow sapped of his energy, as if he had been sprinting for nearly half an hour. He picked up the box. He lifted the cross out and put it on underneath his shirt. It felt heavy on his neck and warm against his skin—the latter not fitting of metal that had not touched human skin for so many years. Jasper pulled out the eccentric revolver, relishing its weight in his hand. Looking the gun over closer, Jasper saw the simplicity of its design; there were no etchings or fancy text scrolled onto its barrel. It seemed to have been designed for only one purpose, and for nothing else. The only design it had was a silver inlay of a Celtic cross in its sandalwood handle. “What do I do now?” Jasper said in a grim voice, as if assigned to kill livestock. “You know what,” Dean said, placing one of his rough hands on the revolver in Jasper’s. “Save the souls of this Inn. Release em from this Puhgatory and let em cross ovah. Don’t let ‘em die evermore with anothah sacrifice.” Jasper nodded, silent. “I’ve got to go now, Jasper. The rest is up to you.” Jasper watched as Grandpa Dean retracted his hand began to fade out of existence. “Wait!” Jasper said, “Why me? Why do I have this…this thing?” Grandpa Dean just laughed. “You’ll have to take that one up with the Big Man.” Dean gave a coy smile. “I’ll see ya latuh, Boy. Remembah: just call…” Grandpa Dean’s voice faded out. Time then, little by little, began to come back to normal speed. The scythe sped up and landed into the floor with a loud thump; everyone but Jasper looked around in disbelief as Jasper flashed to another location, untied and standing. He kept standing for a moment, but soon fell to a knee, holding the side of his head—how it hurt, how exhausted he felt. Saman released a shriek; it was the sound of forks scraped across china and the long, high note of a siren. It now seemed that everyone could see the beast: Eliza screamed and Saman heaved the scythe out of the floor and turned to take Eliza instead. “Hey!” Jasper shouted, rising with heavy breath. He was oblivious to the blood running out of his nose. “Long, tall, and ugly!” Saman turned facing Jasper, “Yes, you, the fairy with scythe. Guess what?” “Wottt?” Saman hissed. Jasper pulled back the hammer, raising the gun as if it were a ten-pound weight. “It’s time for you to go back to Neverland, Tinkerbell.” Jasper pulled the trigger of the gun and his hand flew backward from the recoil. A cobalt lighting bolt of a bullet screamed out across the room, hurtling at the cloaked demon. It struck Saman’s head, causing a bright flash of blue-white light that illuminated its once-obscure features. Jasper saw its horrid face for a moment, and only a moment—and he was thankful that it was just that; prolonged reveal of such a monstrosity would have undoubtedly drove him insane.
Saman’s face was the skull that had smiled at him in his vision what seemed so long ago…except it wasn’t; it had some kind of taut, whitish-beige skin over its face, and its eyes were red, even in the blue light of the bullet; the kind of red that made maraschino cherries look pink. Saman released a screech that broke the glass above them, sending shards raining down upon them. Jasper covered his ears, as did Mary, John, and Joe. But Roy, Pete, and Eliza had no such pleasure; their ears were ringing in the steep pitch of the creature’s tortuous scream. Jasper realized this and pulled back the hammer again. He shot Saman in the chest and the shriek stopped; Saman fell to its knees in silence, black mist falling off it and evaporating with each movement it made, and began writhing on the carved, bloody knot. Jasper saw that it was imploding in upon itself, like a sun before a supernova. That was when Joe came for him; the big man ran at Jasper with his square club. Jasper pulled the hammer back almost on instinct and shot Joe in the chest. The bullet flew out in a blue streak and Joe dropped to his knees, looking at the wound over his heart. His club slipped out of his hand, smashing into the floor; Joseph Rimer looked up at Jasper, bearish face disbelieving as it began to age and desiccate in seconds, shriveling away. Jasper watched as all the missed years of life at last caught up with Joe; his skin went darker still—until it was almost sooty—and his eyes turned to dust. He died in a pile of smooth silk and dried flesh, bones, and skin. Mary came next, wielding the silver knife—taken from her son, he assumed. Jasper shot her in the chest without hesitation, her youthful skin instantly drying and cracking. She screamed, the knife falling from her hands, and she, too, fell into a pile of ancient dust and debris like Joe, though faster. As this happened, Saman imploded down to half its original size and was floating several inches in the air; it flailed a mad arm about, scraping the floor. Jasper turned and faced John, but was too late. John held a magnificent revolver with elegant, vine-like etchings that flowed up from the handle, across the cylinder and up the barrel, twisting and wrapping around it. The handle was a brilliant, varnished rosewood. John cocked the gun and Jasper knew he hadn’t the time to shoot before him. John pulled the trigger. The bullet flew at Jasper, a tiny comet of silver followed by a tail of bright red light. John’s smile was broad and terribly ecstatic—he had won! He had— The bullet stopped an inch before hitting Jasper’s chest and fell to the ground. They both looked at Jasper’s chest; beneath his shirt, the glowing silhouette of the cross glowed. John stared, shocked, and as the now useless bullet hit the ground with the minutest ‘tink.’ Jasper raised the gun. “Well, John,” said Jasper “It’s been real.” “No,” said John, his voice a horrified gasp, “Don’t.” “It’s been fun,” Jasper pulled back the hammer. “Please,” John pleaded in that same shocked whisper. Jasper cocked his head. “But it hasn’t been real fun,” and with that the bullet shot out, blue lighting following it.
The lead comet struck John’s head and he fell back, screaming, writhing, convulsing. He held onto his face, rolling back and forth, legs kicking as if he were a toddler throwing a fit. His skin dried up like parchment in an oven, and yellowed bones began to tear through it. His hair grayed and disintegrated, his muscles hardening to stone. Saman was still floating, a third of its original size; it was now just a black ball, condensing down and down, a black hole within the monster consuming it slowly. Jasper grabbed Mary’s knife and cut free Eliza, Roy and Murray. Jasper knew that when Saman imploded, things would not be very pleasurable near it—how he knew, he didn’t. But, by this time, he stopped caring about how and just trusted his instincts. “Run!” Jasper yelled to his companions; they did just that, leaving the screaming Saman and the dying John Cavalier behind them.
Down the attic stairs. Through the halls. Jasper saw the Inn itself was dying like its creators, the walls bowing and floors cracking open to the abyss below—the same one he had imagined falling into through the stairs a few days earlier. Down the floor C stairwell, dust hurricanes of plaster and dirt obscuring the way. In the ballroom and through the antechamber beyond, a collapsing piano and crashing dishes crying out frustratedly after them. Down to floor A, falling ceilings and toppling doors. When they escaped the stairwell, the hall of doors stretching out beyond them, they heard a loud crash above them. Saman was dead—if it could even die—and the aftermath would decimate the Inn. “Faster!” Jasper yelled as if he were the driver of a sled dog team. He was the slowest, his muscles having ran on nothing but adrenaline for the escape thus far. They ran through floor A and down the staircases, bits of plaster and glass crystal from the chandelier raining down upon them. They opened the double doors and ran out of the Inn; free at last. Except Jasper. He stopped before the open doors as a figure walk from the lobby’s front desk. David Stonewall. He had been spared of the atrocities inflicted upon him, but the gaunt frame and tired look were still there. He held a burlap sack in his right hand. “Good job, Jasper,” he said, “I thank you with all of my being.” “No problem,” Jasper said, “Any time.” His all ready spent body seemed to no be using itself up even more just to keep his conversation with David going. “Jasper, hurry!” Eliza screamed. She seemed so far away as he talked to David. “Before you leave,” David said, “I want you to have this.” He passed Jasper the burlap bag, which Jasper took. “What is—” “You’ll find out later,” David said, “But right now you need to get out of here. Your burning it up.” Jasper hesitated for a second. It? What am I burning? Jasper then strode as fast as he could for the doors. “I’ll see you later, David,” he said, with a weak smile.
“Oh, you will!” David yelled back, smiling wide, as the lobby began to fall apart. The chandelier fell, smashing into the floor and sending a typhoon of glass shards everywhere, glittering and glistening like a diamond cascade. The banisters tipped over, and floor A imploded from the other collapsed stories weighing down upon it. They were already in the car when Jasper got to his Challenger—Eliza sat in the passenger seat and Roy and Murray were crammed in together with all of his belongings in the back. It was almost comical to see them like that; big men in a little car. He got in in and started the old machine up, the engine roaring in a deep chorus of laughter; the time had come to drive fast and far, and it would be a party all the way for it. Eliza leaned over and kissed him; Jasper went to return the favor, but was interrupted by Murray. “Hey, no rush or anythin Romeo, but that mothafackin Inn’s gonna fall on top of us unless ya get us outta heah!” Jasper shifted the car into reverse and pulled out of the Inn’s parking lot, gravel spewing everywhere. Just as he turned around, he saw the double doors slam shut; the elk’s crystalline eye flashed a bight blue beacon of light, a supernatural laser beam. Jasper could almost here the regal elk’s screams—“What have you done to me? WHAT IS HAPPENING?”—as the light died and the Inn then fell in completely. Gravel sputtered out profusely from under the Challenger’s tires as the car flew down the road, a mad peel of combustion laughter filling the night. They stopped at the last knoll and looked at the Cavalier Inn’s remains once last time. It had been a building that had stood for ninety years, taken many lives, and ruined a town. Now, at long last, it had fallen and was destroyed. Smoke and dust billowed up from the ruins, as the hedge maze withered and was crushed by the west wall of the Inn. Although none but him saw it, Jasper swore he saw small pillar of silver wisps rise up in the night. And so it was that monarch’s grip had been relinquished; the dictator, slain. Jasper stomped on the accelerator, and they left the nightmare behind them. Jasper drove halfway down the road, and he swore he saw something on the side of the road. Billy shot through his hazing mind; he had never felt as tired as he felt now. Jasper was the only one in the car, then, save for Billy in the passenger seat. “Hey, Jasper!” he said, bright and cheerful, “Ya did it!” “Hey Billy,” Jasper said, tired beyond previous experience, “You want a ride?” “Nah. I’m goin home with Mum and Rosy. I just wanted ta say thanks a bunch! Ya did it!” “Thanks,” he said, “I’ll see you later, Billy.” “Yeah, see ya latah too!” he said with that same boyish cheer, and faded away. Jasper drove on, his passengers coming back to reality. He felt tears at the corners of his eyes. “Ya did it!” “Yes,” whispered Jasper as he saw the first lights of Goff Falls ahead of him and the tears rolled down his cheeks freely, “I did.”
Jasper Garrison stood before the oval, full-body mirror, adjusting his black tie. The tuxedo was clean, ironed and incredibly uncomfortable to him; he preferred jeans and tees, really. The room in the church was small and somewhat humid. A tattered sofa stood off to his side, providing a lumpy, yet somehow comforting, luxury. A closet emptied of the pastor and choir singers’ gowns stood ajar to his left. The wood floor beneath him was worn out and in desperate need of a new coat of varnish; yet, thanks to the cost of living and lack of attendance at sermons, no such varnish would ever come. Jasper saw the door behind him open in the mirror—Nigel Harrison stepped in, wearing a suit like his, save for the fact that he had a pink bow tie. Rose Blossom. “Ready?” he said. His glasses magnified his nervous eyes tremendously. “Guess so,” Jasper said, straightening his tie and turning. Pete Mills stood in the corner of the room, glaring at him. A red stain the shape of an inverted teardrop ran down the front of his white shirt, tip stopping at his belt; his clothing was covered in shards of glass and dust. He glared at Jasper with conviction, glasses askew, as if accusing Jasper of killing him. “I couldn’t have saved you,” Jasper said quietly, as if it were a spell, a chant, a verbal talisman, something to rid himself of the lingering spirit. “What’d you say?” Nigel said. Jasper looked at him, then back to the empty corner where Pete had been. “Nothing,” Jasper replied. “Oh,” Nigel said, “Well, it’s about to begin.” “I’m on my way,” Jasper said, and turned to the mirror again to inspect his appearance. Deep-set, icy blue eyes. Pearly teeth. John Cavalier stared back at him, grinning smugly in a suit identical to Jasper’s. Lookin’ pretty sharp, there, infidel. Still don’t believe in my Lord? Still think yours would let this torture go on for a good reason? Jasper rubbed his face, and looked again. It was his reflection, although his eyes were a bit deeper-set nowadays and he was losing weight. It could have just been him… “Jasper?” “Yeah?” Jasper said, his throat dry and tasting of dust. floor C. The Catacomb. “Tell me,” Nigel said, “How did you get all that money? I mean, I know those old bonds and cash were valuable; but, still, this wedding is just…just too good too be true. What happened at that Cavalier Inn place?” Jasper stared into his reflection’s eyes for a minute. Then, quietly, he spoke. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I tried,” Jasper said, “And I don’t think I can try.” He left the room, Nigel following him out into the church. People sat in the worn pews, all dressed formally. The walls inside this church could use new paint, and the car-
pets needed replacing—but Angela wanted this church, her family’s church, and Jasper had relented on insisting a better one. Nigel and Jasper quickly took their places at the head of the church and the organ started. People stood; the flower girl and ring bearer made their procession down the hall—both were cousins of Nigel, both were wee in size. Then came the bride, her face hidden beneath a white shroud. She was escorted by a large man with a thinning pate and squashed features. Her father, Lars. Jasper glanced over to the bridesmaids. All three of them wore silky purple dresses with see-through straps. Eliza Chapman—soon to be Garrison, if she accepted Jasper (and every living moment he prayed she would)—was one of these bridesmaids. She looked over at him and smiled, though Jasper could see worry in her emerald eyes. Worry that was shared in his own. Jasper tried to snap out of it—tried to shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. That something was still awry. “Ya did it!” The thought reassured him some, and he knew he should be happy—this was Nigel and Angela’s big day, after all, and he shouldn’t be weighed down by illusory threats. Angela separated from her father and stood before Nigel, smiling. Nigel smiled, too (for once just happily and not awkwardly as well), and the organ music stopped. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…” began the pastor, a few inches away from being labeled a dwarf. Jasper shouldn’t have been worried. He should’ve been happy. He shouldn’t have been weighed down. Yet still he was. It’ll never be right, Casper, and you know it. You can keep running from the truth, you can keeping hiding it under lies, but sooner or later you will have to see yourself for what you really are: A murderer. A liar. A failure to Pete. A freak to the world. You will have to face these things, Casper.‘Cuz, till then, ain’t nothing’ll ever be all right. “We’ll make it all right,” Jasper breathed to himself, and glanced over the furthest corner of the church. There, a man in a plaid shirt and Red Sox hat stood, leaning against the door, smiling. Jasper smiled, too, and was happy. If only for that moment. And, thousands of miles away, over the mountains and valleys of Maine, across the lakes and fields, there sat the dead hamlet of Steadfast, where the deep blue mountains kept watch like sentries over the valley and the silent town. Past that last hillock, through the ghost town, and up through the tunnel-like road to where the hotel once stood; in front of the wreckage and ruins that were the Cavalier Inn, a sign by the actual Gordon Architecture stood:
Because a legacy should never die, The New Cavalier Inn!
Because people come first.
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