NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS HERE
(A Thorn Jack story set in 2012, before the events in Thorn Jack)
Nothing good ever happens here.
As the cab drove past the remains of the boarded-up church, those words in graffiti across its doors seemed to glow in the fading light.
This is the part in the horror movie where I'm like, 'Oh shit.' Christie grinned and returned to the book in his lap. It was an old book of W.B. Yeats's poems, one of his favorites. He figured he owed it a trip out of Fair Hollow. The book had inspired the poem that had won him a place at the three-day writers' conference which he and six other students from around the country had been invited to attend in Detroit.
He tugged the wool hat from his curls and tried to make his legs stretch as far as they could in the cramped space. It seemed to be an overly long ride.
"Here." The driver, a gaunt woman with coal-black hair and a crow's eyes, jerked the cab to a halt.
Christie peered out the window at the Barrington Hotel, which had been described in the letter as 'grand and luxurious, with a history.' It did look grand and luxurious, but not in a comforting way . . . more as if something old in the throes of decay had put on a mask and some fancy clothes.
He paid the driver and, hauling his backpack, got out. As the cab pulled away, he stood and gazed at the gaudy entryway with its stained-glass doors and stone ladies curving over the arch. He was sixteen. This was the first time he'd ever been away from Fair Hollow without his brothers and his parents.
He was going to enjoy it.
He pushed through the doors. The lobby was decorated in rose-reds and golds, with an Art Deco mural of Native Americans in feathers and paint behind the front desk. As he headed for the desk, a girl in jeans and a fur-lined aviator's jacket strode past him. Tiny stars glimmered in her auburn hair. she glanced back. Her eyes seemed to flash silver. She turned and continued out the doors into the rain-swept night.
After exploring his room, he called Sylvie, Aubrey, and, lastly, his mom. At nine o'clock, he fell asleep in his clothes, watching The Lord of the Rings.
He was awakened by the sound of a girl crying.
He sat up, blinking in the light from the television, where Frodo and company were visiting the elves. He hunched up and listened to the girl sobbing in the room next door.
I should see what's wrong, he thought. I should go over there.
He slid from the bed, tugged on his boots. He switched on a lamp and stepped out into the hall, which was furnished in hues of purple and gold like some fairy-tale castle. The paintings on the walls were of forests with the distant figures of Native Americans in them.
He peered at room 709. He didn't hear the sobbing now.
The door flew open and a boy his age stared at him, startled, the lights harsh on his brown skin. "Hey."
"So why are you standing outside my door?" The other boy wore a T-shirt and jeans. On the bed behind him was a guitar.
"Uh." Christie tried to figure out how to say he'd come to check on the guy's girlfriend because he'd heard her crying.
The other other boy said, roughly, "Is your girlfriend okay?" He leaned in the doorway, eyes narrowed. "Did you do something to make her cry like that?"
"My girlfriend?" Christie was offended. "I came here to . . ." He stared at the interior wall of the other boy's room. Then he leaned back to check the distance between his door and his neighbor's. His own room's wall ended near his door. That left an entire room's length between his wall and his neighbor's. But there was no room between them, no door.
"What are you looking at?" The other boy sounded wary.
"I don't have a girl in my room," Christie told him. "I thought you did."
The other boy turned his head and stared at the wall.
"There's a space between our rooms." Christie didn't know why he whispered. The hair on the nape of his neck prickled. The fancy corridor seemed suddenly exceptionally chilly.
"Yeah. There is. Your room ends down there?" The other boy pressed an ear against the wall. He looked at Christie. "I'm Leon."
"Christie. You're not, by any chance, here for the writing conference, are you?"
"Hey, then, good to meet you." Leon grinned and reached out. Christie grasped his hand. They both turned and gazed at the wall.
"It could have come from upstairs? Downstairs?" Christie was trying to ignore the creeped-out feeling that had begun to settle inside of him.
"A vent." Leon decided. He took his phone from his back pocket. "Why don't you give me your number? If this happens again, we can check it out."
Christie gave him the number to his cell and entered Leon's into his. They promised to meet up at the events tomorrow, the panels and signings at the convention center that, on the map, was only five blocks away.
Christie returned to his room and sat in the middle of the enormous bed.
He didn't know if he should have been able to hear what he'd heard. He'd been born partially deaf and his hearing aids were only supposed to assist, but as the years went on, he'd gradually begun to distinguish distinct sounds, the tonal qualities of people's voices. He'd tried telling his doctors this. No one believed him.
There was a painting above his bed, of another forest, at night, with a tiny white figure in it, like a girl in a gown. He didn't like the look of that vast forest, the black glitter of water between the trees.
He fell asleep with the lights on.