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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2307333
A married couple are snowbound in a strange hotel one night. 1st in SCREAMS Halloween 2023
A Shining Example

“That Jack Nicholson is scary even when he smiles.” Mandy said the words as they hurried through the falling snow toward their car.

Her husband, John, spoke with head down and collar turned up against the wind. “Actually, I think that’s when he’s worst.”

They reached the car and concentrated on getting inside before saying more. Then Mandy agreed with John. “You’re right. I’ve never seen such a creepy grin. The guy was perfect for that role.”

John was fumbling with the key, in a hurry to get the car started and the heating blowing. Outside, in the car park, others were arriving from the theatre and spreading out in search of their cars. Caught in the floodlights beyond the darkness, a neon sign advertised the seven hour horror movie marathon that had held its audience spellbound that night. All the great ones were included and the list ended with The Shining.

The car started at last and John eased it into the flow of traffic heading for the exit. The wipers kept the windshield clear of the snow and the heater began to warm as they reached the street. Mandy watched the flakes drifting across their path.

“Gonna take a while to get home in this,” she commented. “I hope it doesn’t get any worse.”

“Yeah, might take a bit longer than the usual hour or so.” John put on a bit of speed as they headed out of town. Ahead, the road disappeared into the darkness, flecked with bright, falling flakes in the headlight beams.

As they left the last lights of houses behind them and began the climb up to the forested hills, the snowfall thickened and it became more difficult to see any distance ahead. The road wound left and right and the trees closed in around them. The snow was deeper here and the cleared track of black asphalt narrowed and finally disappeared.

The car was coping well, however, its four-wheel drive ensuring it maintained a steady course. Time passed with the flakes flying past in the brief glare of their lights and the crunch and swish of the tyres on snow was a pleasant accompaniment to their growing confidence.

As they reached the crest of the pass through the hills and began the descent on the other side, the engine died.

Without warning, the contented hum faded into silence and the car slowed to a stop. John tried to restart but the motor just churned over and over without effect. He gave up when it began to struggle, the battery clearly protesting at such abuse.

In the car, Mandy broke the worried stillness that had descended. “What is it, John?”

“I don’t know. Could be water in the electrics somewhere. Or maybe the fuel pump’s packed up. I dunno.”

“Well, what are we gonna do?” The concern in Mandy’s voice was obvious.

“Normally, it would be best to stay with the car until help arrives,” said John. “But, with the engine out, the heater won’t work, and it’ll get pretty cold in here soon. I think I better get out and see if there’s a house nearby that we could reach. There are a few along this way.”

He cracked the door open and stuck his head out. The wind was not as fierce as he had expected, the surrounding trees taking the worst of its anger. He stood up and looked around.

To his surprise, there was a light showing between the trees, some distance off but clear and unwavering. He bent down to talk to Mandy.

“We’re in luck. There’s a house or something just a little way off among the trees. Got an outside light that’ll be an easy guide. Button your coat - we’re going for a walk.”

They were soon tramping through the snow on their way toward the light. Here, under the trees, it was not as deep as the roadside had been, and they made good progress. The light turned out to be farther off than seemed at first and, as it appeared and disappeared with their movement among the massed pines, it became apparent that it was only one light of many. At last, they came to the edge of a clearing in the forest, on the far side of which they could now see a mansion, brightly lit with floodlights aimed at its frontage, and light pouring from every window.

They stood for a moment in awe at the impressive facade of their salvation.

“I think it’s a hotel,” said John.

“More than that,” replied Mandy. “It looks like that hotel in The Shining.”

John looked sideways at her. “Nah, it’s not nearly as big as that.”

“But it’s the same style,” she countered. “It’s like a wing of that hotel got detached and was just dumped here.”

He considered it again. “Well, maybe you’re right. But we have to take advantage of it. There’s nowhere else we could shelter.”

“Hope their prices are reasonable,” said Mandy as they set off on the trudge to the building.

There was a roof constructed over the entrance area to the hotel and, above the door, in rustic letters was the legend, Underwood Hotel. The benighted travellers pushed the door and entered.

It was unbelievably bright inside. An impressive lobby was lit by several ornate chandeliers and every wall had sconces holding electric candles. The place was empty and John walked across to the counter situated in one corner. He thumped a hand down on the bell and waited. Mandy joined him.

Nothing happened, so John rang the bell again. Its tone wafted into the great silence that hung over the place and, somehow, both of them knew that it was not going to be answered.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here,” said Mandy.

“Seems that way,” answered John, but he hammered away at the bell a few more times to be sure. The frantic ringing only made the silence even deeper as the echoes died. John lifted the gate to get behind the counter. “Need a key to get into a room,” he said.

After a brief consideration of the board holding the keys, he chose one numbered 237. “Should be on the second floor. Not too far to go in that case.” Mandy had turned around the big visitor’s book and was writing their names on the first page. There didn’t seem to be any other visitors named in it.

“The hotel must be new,” said John. “We’re the first guests.”

“I doubt it,” replied Mandy, as she added a note to explain their presence.

They left the counter and stood for a moment before the elevator doors. John had been about to press the up button but hesitated. “Not sure I trust this. There’s no one to help if it gets stuck.”

Mandy agreed and they headed for the stairs.

Room 237 was indeed on the second floor. Every light was blazing, even those in the en suite bathroom. They spent a few moments turning some off.

With the glare level turned down, the room revealed itself as quite sumptuous. It was much larger than they had expected and furnished lavishly. After testing the enormous bed and gazing through the windows at the snow-covered scene outside, Mandy realised that she was hungry.

John left in search of the kitchen and Mandy lay down on the bed. She drifted off to sleep.

Her dreams were confused and vaguely disturbing. Something nagged at her awareness but she raced from room to room in a vast mansion, searching for someone, she knew not who.

She woke with a start, unsure at first where she was. Then it came flooding back to her as she realised that all the lights were on again. There was no sign of John.

He should have been back by now. A glance at her watch told her he’d been gone for over an hour. She rose and went to the door. The corridor was empty and silent. It blazed with light, just as she remembered it.

And then the elevator rang and the doors slid open.

John staggered into the corridor. He had lost his coat and his shirt fell open and ragged as though ripped by the claws of some awful creature. His hair was wild and his face screwed into a manic visage of insane delight. One hand held a fire-fighter’s axe. His eyes flicked from left to right and back again, as though seeking something but needing more light.

“John. Is that you?” Mandy’s voice was muffled by the menacing silence but it froze the figure by the elevator. He looked directly at her and then began to run toward her.

Mandy stepped back into the room, slammed the door and locked it. She heard the thump as a body hit the door full tilt and then the rattling of the door handle as the apparition tried to get in.

“Mandy, it’s me,” came the shout. “Let me in. I have something for you!”

It didn’t sound like John. This was wild and uncontrolled, positively growling and snarling with eagerness to get at her. And that grin on his face as he’d seen her - it was just like Jack Nicholson’s awful smile when at his craziest.

There followed a crash and the edge of an axe appeared in the wood of the door. It wriggled as it was twisted to release it and then struck again. Deeper this time and more of the blade visible.

Mandy hurried to the dresser and looked desperately for a weapon to defend herself. There were bottles and jars but nothing seemed suitable. Another crash came from the door. Then she noticed a letter opener shaped like a knife. It wasn’t much but it was something, at least. She grabbed it and headed for the bathroom.

Behind her there was another crash more shattering than the others, and then the tearing of wood as the creature outside sought to force its way in. Mandy entered the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. She turned and locked it, then squeezed herself into the furthest corner, as though she might disappear into the cabinet that stood there. Her breath held as tightly as she could, she waited.

There was no sound for several minutes. Mandy was beginning to think that he might have given up trying to break the door down, when the bathroom door handle began to turn slowly and quietly. It reached the stop and then turned back, just as silently.

For a moment there was no sound, then the voice came again, this time sweetly and pleading.

“Mandy, I’ve been looking for you. Why don’t you let me in? I’ll do you no harm. I promise.” This was almost worse than before. Never had she heard John speak like that. There was an aura of concealed hatred in the words, a masked denial of almost overpowering evil desperate to be let loose. Mandy held her breath in terror.

Her silence proved too much for the voice, for it burst forth in a bellow of anguish. “So we do it the hard way then!”

There was a crash as before and the edge of the axe forced its way through the door. Levered twice, it withdrew and immediately struck again. The blows became frenzied and furious and a hole began to appear in the wood panels.

Mandy knew what would be next. She’d seen the movie after all.

Steeling herself against her terror and need to flee, she crept closer, back against the wall, but watching the hole in the door. And then it happened. John’s face wild and furious, great grin splitting its width in mad hysteria, was rammed into the hole, the eyes searching sideways for his prey. The mouth opened in a howl.

“Here’s Johnny!”

She gripped the letter opener tightly in her hand and, with a backward slash as powerful as she could make it, with her entire weight behind it, she brought it swinging down to pierce the nearest eye, ramming in deep so that she felt the bone of the eye socket against its edge. The force of the blow was sufficient to tear up the brain behind it and she imagined its slippery, bubbling liquidity against the smooth metal of the blade.

He made no sound but, as she released the handle, it travelled slowly down, still embedded in the socket, until it reached the bottom of the ragged hole the axe had made. There it stopped and she could imagine the body slumped outside the door, the head and upper torso held upright only by the blade of its demise, its one remaining eye staring sightlessly into the bathroom.

Mandy’s voice, smothered by a hand and tears, rang out, “Oh John, what have we done?”

Word count: 2,138
For “SCREAMS!!!” Halloween Contest, October, 2023
Prompt: It’s Halloween and you have been watching Horror movies for the past seven hours with your family. It’s midnight and you have an hour drive home with your spouse, boyfriend, or roommate. Things start happening to you that were in the movies. I want you to describe in detail your movie nightmare.

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