NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS HERE (2012)
Christie was awakened by music--eerie, manic fiddle music. The slight discordance was what jerked up his head from the pillow. The room was freezing. The heat had apparently stopped working.
Grumbling, he got up in the light of the television and checked the wall thermometer. He didn't believe it when he saw that it was sixty degrees. He moved to the window, which overlooked the garden maze. Another party was being held in the furthest reaches of the garden, near the pond. He could see lights and moving figures. The music came from there.
When a humming sound pulsed in his ears, he shivered. The humming faded, but the nape of his neck prickled. He heard laughter and voices in the hall, a girl singing sweetly, as if a group of drunken guests were passing by. He hurried to the door, looked out of the peephole. He didn't see anyone. He grabbed his phone and texted Leon: DID U HEAR THAT? NO 1 OUT THERE.
A second later, Leon texted back: ON 3, WE STEP OUT, OK?
Christie counted, then yanked the door open and stepped into the hall.
Leon was there, looking bewildered in plaid pajama pants. He shook his head. "Weird."
"There's a party going on at the pond."
Leon looked back into his room. Then, with one hand on the doorknob, he leaned slightly toward Christie. "I've got company."
"You're hooking up?" Christie felt betrayed. "Is it Mari--"
Leon widened his eyes and slid back into the room, whispered, "No time for ghosts."
"Well, no," Christie muttered as his door shut. "You're getting laid."
He thought of the party and the pond and felt a thrill of daring. Was it some of the locals? Did Clara know about it?
A whisper of sound made him turn quickly. He thought he glimpsed a pair of spindly shadows cross the wall at the corridor's end.
He walked cautiously over and saw that the wallpaper was stained, as if by smoke, forming shapes that resembled two gaunt people.
He returned to his room and made some coffee in the brewer. He gazed out the window at the moving figures and lights near the pond.
Fifteen minutes later, dressed in a hoodie and boots against the cold, he left the hotel by the garden entrance and strode down the labyrinthine path, toward the thicket of trees around the pond. The night was eerily quiet. He heard only leaves rustling and the sounds of traffic in the distance. He knew he wasn't supposed to be able to catch such delicate sounds. Fireflies winked between the trees. When he came to the last part of the garden, he found it deserted.
Maybe I went the wrong way. And maybe the revelers had headed back around the pond.
He pushed through the thickets, his heart galloping. The moon, reflecting from the clouds, created a bright illumination.
He saw a structure near the pond, a makeshift temple, its roof of tin, its pillars made from mismatched timbers painted with symbols. Arching over it, its roots snaking into the pond, was a giant yew tree.
The party had ended apparently, but Christie found no evidence of it--no beer cans or footprints or any sign of a group of people. He stepped up into the temple, and halted.
Someone had placed a goat's skull on a pedestal. Green candles surrounded it. Flowering vines draped it. Shells and little statues had been placed around it.
Rotting wood gave way beneath one of his feet. He fell backward, his head smacking against the boards. He lay there for a minute, until the stars stopped flashing behind his eyes. Dread crawled up through his stomach.
Then he heard something splashing in the pond, something big.
He rolled over and eased up onto his knees. He gazed at the pond glistening darkly beyond the trees. When he heard a noise like a bull bellowing softly, he pushed to his feet and lurched out of the temple, in the direction of the hotel. Every instinct within him warned him against turning his head and looking at that pond again.
Don't. Don't. Don't.
But he did.
He saw a large figure standing there, facing him, its back to the pond. Moonlight glistened on skin so white, it reminded him of things long submerged in watery depths.
When a hand clamped down on his shoulder, he whirled, one fist drawn back.
"Hey." Leon raised his hands. "I can't believe you came down here on your own."
"Did you..." Christie turned toward the pond.
"Come on back." Hunched up in his jacket, Leon looked around. "That place is not scenic."
"Boys." They turned to see Marisol approaching. "It's freezing out here. Where's the party?"
"I told her." Leon shrugged when Christie glanced at him. "There's no sign of anyone. Are you sure--"
"Don't ask me if I'm sure." Christie started back up the path. "They're gone now, whoever they were. But I'm sure they were here."