NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS HERE (2012)
Christie missed the morning panels, but he was prepared for the reading when it was his time at three o'clock, and arrived at the convention center early. He recited his poem--it was a long one--and received a pretty medal. He returned to his seat next to the other winners, where Leon nudged him. Marisol was next.
"We're going out later. Come with us? I mean, it's our last night here."
"Let me see if I can get Clara to come." Christie hadn't seen Clara at all today.
"The daughter of the hotel owner. Don't smile at me slyly."
"That's just the way I smile. We'll never find out about the haunts." Leon sounded disappointed.
"I'll ask her," Christie promised. "I'm sure she'll tell me the hotel's haunted. That pond is. Drownings. Devil worship. It has everything."
Christie, Leon, and Marisol walked around the neighborhood and had lunch. Afterward, Christie returned to his room, where he decided to crash for a little while before attempting to find Clara.
He woke in the dark because he thought someone had whispered his name.
Deciding that his phone must have buzzed, he fumbled for it. There was a text from Leon: WHERE R U? WE'RE 10 MINUTES AWAY. There was an address. They had left without him? He felt wounded.
He was showered and dressed and in the hall in fifteen minutes. He took an empty elevator down to the lobby, which was also deserted but for one desk clerk.
As he stood outside in the chill, a cab slid to the curb. He ducked in. The cabdriver, a black man with silver hair, looked at him funny. "What are you doing out on the border like this?"
That was a weird way of defining the city districts. Christie said, "I'm attending a poetry convention."
The man looked back over one shoulder. "Why're you standing outside of that place?"
"I'm staying there."
"You're staying in a place that closed up ten years ago?" The driver narrowed his eyes in the rearview mirror. "What are you up to, son?"
I am so not in the mood for this, Christie thought, wondering if the man was senile. "Let me tell you where I'm going? Friends are expecing me."
Christie didn't find Leon and Marisol at the restaurant. He texted Leon. He didn't get an answer, but he did get a take-out meal, and had to call for another cab, whose driver kept blissfully quiet the entire time.
Christie did it out of curiosity: He snapped open his laptop and Googled The Barrington Hotel.
The Barrington had been a hot spot in the 1930s. It had hosted gangsters and actors. One actor had drowned in the pond in the back. Accompanying the article was a black-and-white photo of a young man with slicked-back hair and one of those annoying faces that seemed chiseled out of marble. The hotel's owners, Edward Barrington and his socialite wife, Zelda, had died in a fire in 1938. They had had a daughter. Her name had been Clara.
Christie stared numbly at the black-and-white photograph of a girl who looked like the Clara he had met, down to the little white dress and marcelled blonde hair.
The room was too cold. Autumn wind howled outside. He switched the TV on just to hear the normalcy of a sports game. He felt dizzy. He looked back down at this computer screen and scrolled to a picture of the hotel from 2005. The next tragedy had involved the hotel shuttle bus, transporting several guests to The Barrington. There had been a crash. All the passengers had died. The passengers were listed, with photos.
Christie had once fainted from hunger when on a camping trip with his dad and brothers. He felt that awful vertigo now, as if his brain were lifting from his body. He stared at the photos as his mind worked to find a solution that made sense.
The lights went out. In the gloom, Christie lifted his gaze from the laptop to the window.
The window was now boarded up, the curtains around it now tattered. The wallpaper was peeling. The bed beneath him was soggy. The acid reek of mildew made him retch.
He hurled himself off the bed. He slammed back against a wall and slid down, squeezing his eyes shut. "This isn't real. Stop it."
The wind ceased howling. He opened his eyes. The room was as it had been, neat and brightly lit. A malevolent thing in disguise.
He jumped up and shut his laptop, threw it into his suitcase, zipped up the suitcase. Luggage in hand, he stumbled to the door. He was shocked when it opened.
The hallway seemed safe. As he passed Leon's room, he hesitated. One of the photographs of the passengers on that doomed shuttle bus had been Leon Emmet. Another had been Marisol Hernandez.
He knocked on Leon's door. No one answered.
The lights at the end of the hall went out.
Christie fled, rushing through the door to the stair.
In the lobby, all seemed deceptively well. The desk attendant stood before the Art Deco mural of Native Americans. The auburn-haired girl from the old bookstore and the red-haired boy who accompanied her stood in the lobby talking. They looked at Christie. Their eyes glimmered silver.
He pushed out the doors, into the garden.