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"I think we’re lost."

A nervous voice grew anxious in the darkness. Papers were ruffled and followed by a sigh of unhappiness. The center glow flickered a few times and gave barely enough light to read the map. Louise felt across the chart. She searched for familiar landmarks that could lead them in the right direction.

"We should have stopped for directions in Vensburg."

"What should we do, you suppose, my wise navigator?" Vega gripped the steering wheel with patience.

Louise stared down at the map, following a broken line for miles. A deep frown burned her face with despair.
"Just keep driving."

A cricket’s duet filled the night with harmonious music.

Through the dark distance, the headlights of an approaching vehicle cast a stunning bean of sanctuary along the dirt road. Rounding the tight corners cut into the mountainside, Vega followed the paved road under his girlfriend’s authority.

A classic rock station filled the car with head banging comfort. A graduation tassel dangled from the rearview mirror. As it swayed with the motion of the car, the glistening reflection from the center console illuminated 2001 with shimmering gold. Vega outlined the road while listening to one of his favorite Butt Rock hits.

In between monstrous rhymes of rhythm, Louise broke in. "I think I found a place for the night," pointing to a small dot on the map.

"Is it far?" Vega asked with intrigued delight.
"Not really."
"What d'ou find, babe?"
"I found us a Bed and Breakfast." She pulled a travel book from the backpack at her feet and fliped through her bookmarks, trying to find any information about the area.

"Says here, the local town is full of family-operated businesses, everything from antique corners to..."
"Sounds good," Vega agreed with an energetic nod that accumulates into a consistent beat.

"Are you listening to me? Take this next right and go all the way to the end of the road."

The car crawled along and stops before a tall black gate. The headlights brought out the detail of gothic architecture. The sharp edges sent a clear message to trespassers. The whole thing said Go Away.

Vega and Louise exited the car and trenched over to the doorbell, rightfully hidden behind a dense bush. A single red button triggerd a haunting voice from an anonymous speaker.

"No solicitors."
"We’re not here to sell anything, we are looking for lodging." Louise stood close to her boyfriend, hoping the vacancy hadn’t run dry.

A ghostly silence lingered in the cold air.

"As you wish." The rusted hinges creaked with neglect, opening itself to an extended driveway. Planted lighting trailed the path through gardens of exotic ferns and shrubbery. The distant trees stood with dark secrets. Their vehicle continued around the corner, finding the cottage camouflaged in rich vines. Vega parked the car next to and old Volkswagen Rabbit hued in a rusty barbecue color with a punctured rear tire. The couple each grabbed a suitcase and walked towards the front of the house. Vega’s neck fell back as he glanced up at the elaborate building.

"Are you sure this is the place?" He asked with a puzzled look on his brow. "It could double as a museum."
Louise stood in defense of her choice. "It’s supposed to be traditional. Besides, you promised me that you wouldn’t complain."

A scattered stone path invited the debating couple up a few steps to a wooden door. Intricate designs of gargoyles and devil-induced coyotes weaved across the grain of wood, creating a living world for the front entrance. An alluring, yet frightening doorknocker protruded from the center of the door.

"Knock on the door." Louise watched from the safety of her boyfriend’s shoulder.

The contacting metal sent a wave of thunder through the house. A flock of bats violently departed from a nearby tree, screeching for the shelter of silence. The door swung open and the same haunting voice invited them in.

"Welcome to Printáge. Please leave your belongings at the door." The butler stood below eye level with a slight hump. He looked up at both travelers with a blood ring look in his eyes like a ripe tomato ready to be squeezed. His exquisite suit shone with success, accessorized by oiled hair and cloud white gloves. He stood in a pair of diamond tip shoes, mirroring the rays from a flickering candle, waiting for a response.

Louise hesitated, still clutching to the back of Vega’s leather coat. The brave boyfriend edged his head in confusion. He didn’t know what to make of this character and whether or not to trust him. He took a step back.

"Don’t fear Benson," a voice spilled down the central staircase. A man, figured in expensive attire, marched down to greet his guests. The silver jewelry around his neck glistened in the light. A long velvet cape covered most of his body, covering what many would mistake for as wings. He turned to Benson and whispered.

"The study needs to be cleaned."
"As you wish, sir." Benson trailed off into the other room, leaving a trail of musky cologne in the air.

“Benson keeps my hands clean," and smiled at nothing. "Ath Printáge. What can I do for you?"
Louise sprung from behind Vega’s defense to greet the stranger, always knowing her place in the conversation. “We would like to spend the night.”

"Oh, I’m horribly sorry. All the rooms are full."
"There’s nothing you can do?"

The man stood with a deep, colorless expression tattooed to his face. "Actually, we just had an early departure. Mr. Veckner heard some bad news and had to leave. The room needs to be cleaned though, care to wait?"
"Not at all," Louise smiled with slight disappointment. Waiting for her room was not how she envisioned her romantic get-a-way.

"Benson!" Ath’s yell echoed into the other room. Benson emerged, wearing an apron splashed with dark red. The dark stain emitted a strong odor of degrading iron into the air. "When you finish in the study, clean out room thirteen. Try to get Mr. Veckner’s stain out of the curtains."
"As you wish, sir."

Vega and Louise stood together, eyes locked in passion and fear. There silent remarks dwindled as they notice the owner approaching from the distance.

"When the room is ready, Benson will inform you."
"Thank you." Louise smiled and sat, using her sturdy suitcase as the world’s least comfortable recliner.

"You can wait in the lounge for the time being. You’ll find it quite comfortable. Now if you’ll both excuse me, I have other erands to prepare." His voice carried through the air like an echoing howl from a deranged wolf. As Ath left the room, the aroma of blood lingered in the air. Louise looked up at Vega, nostrils flaring with the same frightening curiosity.

Vega centered himself in the middle of the lounge, surrounded by cushioned chairs. He rotated in awe, admiring the expensive works of art. In one corner of the room, a statuette of a famous philosopher was displayed on a marble pillar. In the other corner, a potted Black Lotus glared with natural beauty. The midnight blue petals compared perfectly with the thick crimson pillows. The room was riddled with abstract works of art and grotesque paintings; many were appalling images from the Marquis de Sade.

Louise found a comfortable chair at the bar. She grabbed the small bowl of mixed nuts and dug through looking for the right few. Turning back to the center of the room, she noticed Vega playing with an antique sword. He always was the hands-on type of guy. When he dropped the sword, he froze in guilt and saw Louise starring.

"Um…I’ll get the rest of the bags."
"Alright, hurry back." Louise yawned with a mouth-full of chewed cashews and ties not to choke.

Vega follows his memory into the dark.

He stumbled over a few stones on the way back to the car. As he searched with both hands extended, Vega scoured the air for any sign of contact. His fingers bounced off the side window of the parked Volkswagen. He took a step back, looking down at the punctured tire.

"I wonder what happened to these guys?" Vega bent down, bringing his chest to the ground. He panned the dark underbelly of the deserted car.
"Someone was hungry."

Vega’s head jumped into the frame. "OWW!" He pulled himself from under the car and vigorously rubbed the top of his head. He looked around into the darkness. "Who the hell said that?"

Paranoid, Vega shuffled through his pockets for his set of keys. He unlocked the passenger door and dug through the glove compartment. He pushed aside the folded map and grabbed the flashlight. His panic sank in as he fumbled with the device, trying to turn it on. Blinded by the bulb, Vega stumbled away from the car. He squinted into the darkness, having a difficult time focusing his vision.

In the corner of his blinded eyes, Vega noticed the silhouette of an approaching person. He called out to make contact, but there was no response. He followed the character but lost track of his movement in the trees.

As his sight slowly returned from an extreme white, he returned to his car. He grabbed the remaining suitcases from the back and slammed the door. As he started his way back to the front entrance, he dropped a few suitcases. His slender fingers were good for a guitar solo, but not for multiple, over-packed bags. As he picked up the matching containers stuffed with most of his life, he stopped with a nervous gasp. Vega dropped all the bags and darted back to the car, slamming into his Toyota Celeca. He dug through his pockets again, hoping to find his set of keys. Nothing. Vega’s face joined the cold exterior of the side window. He stared down at the reflecting key ring making its home on the rich interior.

"Great, now what am I supposed to do?" He slamed his forehead against the glass a few times, and heared a cracked voice in the distance.

"Locked out are we?" From the shadows, a man dressed in dirty overalls pointed to the locked handle behind Vega’s hip. He pulled a grease rag from his back pocket and massaged his hands in the stained cloth.
"Yeah, can you help me out? I need a Slim Jim or something." Vega turned back to the car, looking for an open window. "Maybe I left the back door open."

"This should do the trick” The mechanic’s thick Norwegian accent stuttered over his broken English. He pulled a forged crowbar from his tool belt, one end crusted with dry blood. In one motion, he dug the sharp wedge into Vega’s head, splitting his scalp into two halves like a juicy grapefruit. Vega’s body collapsed to the bloody ground, arms and legs twitching from the few surviving nerves.

The mechanic wiped his forehead, staining his aged wrinkles with Vega’s warm blood. He looked up an open window, light stretching out from the mansion. Ath’s face stared down with a sinister smile.

The mechanic holstered the bloody crowbar and grabbed Vega’s lifeless legs, dragging him back to the house.

Louise continued to devour the bowl of mixed nuts.

One by one, the almonds and pistachios disappeared from the menu. After an unreasonable amount of salt, Louise pushed the bowl away in disgust. She leaned over the counter and grabbed the nearest bottle. She read the label with a connoisseur’s appreciation, but unplugged the cork like a college dropout and chugged her thirst away.

After what could be measured as three or four glasses of wine, Louise could barely keep her balance as she talked to the reflection in the mirror. She spouted herself compliments and insults by shaking the bottle in her hand like someone had superglued the glass to her skin. She stared at the reflection of the lounge, watching the room for someone else to converse. She finished the tart bottle of wine and set it back, behind the counter and launched a hiccup. Her forehead collided with the grain of the bar.

"I’ve been watching you." Ath’s strong voice startled Louise and knocked her from her seat. With unnatural reflexes, he caught Louise within a few feet from the floor. "You should be more wary."
"Where the hell did you come from?" Louise gave out a hiccup and picked herself back up. She grabbed the nearby bowl and held it out to Ath. "Peanut?"
"No thank you." He picked at his jagged teeth with an even sharper fingernail, dislodging a piece of meat. "I just ate."

Louise turned back to the bar, trying to find her balance. She stared into the mirror, seeing her reflection, but alone. Her eyes danced around in circles, crossing with druken vision. "We’ve been on the road all day and I haven’t had anything to eat" She picked at the bowl of nuts, singling out a few tantalizing pieces. "My boyfriend and I have been looking forward to this trip since graduation."
"You love him, don’t you?" Ath’s tinted eyes connected with Louise. "I can tell by the way you look at him."

Louise could barely look away; her eyes were caught in his reflection and felt empty and incomplete. She saw his hunger and pain, flooded by memories of regret and betrayal. She pulled away, focusing her thoughts on Vega. "My boyfriend loves me, and one day, we’ll be married." Louise turned back to Ath’s face and noticed his eyes, now painted in shadow. Where she once saw a glistening glow, was now a deep fissure of empty suffering.

Ath extended his hand out to Louise, attempting to gain her trust. She hesitated in fear, scared of the shallow eyes looking down on her. Her sweaty palm met the chilled texture of his hand and fell asleep in his grip. Her world went dark.

Louise woke to the gentle tap of fingertips on clouds.
"Your room is ready, please follow me." Benson turned his back to Louise and waddled out of the lounge, hoping that she would follow him without having to carry her.

"Have you seen my boyfriend?" Louise stopped at the foot of the center staircase, looking back at the front door. "He’s suppose to be back with the bags by now."
"The other already brought your bags to the room, this way." Benson’s speed increased as he marched up the stairs. At the top, the rich woven carpet wrapped around the corner down a long hallway, coated in memory.

His steps dwindled to a slow pace, allowing Louise to catch up. As she followed the short foreigner, Louise glanced over the passing portraits that looked more like mug shots. She didn’t recognize a single face from any history book.

"Who are all these miserable people?" Her question echoed down the hallway, bouncing off the high walls. Louise clung to her coat as she struggled with her few bags. She read the dates engraved in each framed plaque. "Wow, some of them are from the early seventeenth century."

At the end of the hallway, Benson stopped and directed Louise towards a closed double door. "Here is your room. Is there anything else I can get you?"
"Is the kitchen still open?" Louise rubbed her growling stomach, feeling the absence of delicious food.
"I’ll see what’s around." Benson scurried down the hallway, leaving Louise alone with her hungry thoughts.

Louise dragged her feet through the room, awing in the luxury she found in a small country town. The smell of strawberry-scented cleaner filled the air with an inviting mask. She wandered around the room for a few minutes, looking for other bags. She looked under the bed, remembering when Vega used to hide from her. She searched the entirety of the room. She checked behind closet doors and window curtains, but admitted defeat. "He’s got to be somewhere else."

Louise looked down at her watch, a precious gift from her boyfriend. An hour had passed since she last saw him. She fell back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. In her head, a broken record played a haunting tune. She tried to keep her eyes open for Vega’s sake, but the darkness consumed her.

Louise dreamed of a mansion in the darkest corner of the world.

A knock at the door jarred Louise awake. She rolled off the bed, landing in a surface jungle of bearskin. She spit out a few strands of dark brown hair and hurried to the door, hoping to see Vega’s beautiful face.

Benson rolled a skirted trolley carrying an array of silver-plated dish covers into the room. He stood motionless for a second, acknowledged Louise with a friendly smile, and left.

Louise leanned over the trolley, soaking her nose in a cloud of steam rising from the largest dome. Her eyes liquefied in happiness when she recognized the aroma. She lifted the dome, releasing a mushroom cloud of tantalizing smells into the air. She unveiled the remaining covers and jumped in excitement.

Before she could dig her fingers into a mound of mashed potatoes, there was another rap at the door, louder than before. Louise huffed in resentment and asked the private room for a moment to eat in peace.

"Try the main dish." A voice filled each corner of the room. Louise fumbled a greasy drumstick to the reverberation of Ath’s thick accent. From a far corner of the room cast in darkness, Ath introduced himself to the light. He walked to the trolley and pointed to the bone of mutton-like red meat. "Freshly-slaughtered."

Louise nibbled at the thick end of the meat and tried to relate the taste. She hasn’t tasted anything this good before. After devouring every muscle strand from the bone, she tossed the femur back on the trolley and licked her barbecue-flavored fingers.

Ath watched closely as Louise slid past him on the way to a comfortable seat. "Did you enjoy the food?" He followed Louise, hovering over the back of her chair.

Satisfied, Louise sank into the cushion, tilting her head back to see his face. A large burp escaped her smile. She looked into his eyes again and suffered the entrapment she felt before. She noticed a chill running along the inside of her skin. Her stomach clenched and twisted, erupting in a spew of blood.

She hunched over in the chair, crying tears of nervous fear. The smell of blood gagged her into another episode, covering her blouse in a warm gel. "What's happening to me?" Her voice broke in the horrible aftertaste.

Ath looked down with a disturbing smile, watching Louise endure the pain. His smile accumulated into an echoing laugh, darkening his eyes in shadow. He pulled Louise’s hair up, slamming her head against his chest. He twisted her neck to one side, exposing a mouthful of pink flesh. Her eyes flickered and fell back as Ath bit her neck, draining her body of rich nutrients. Louise fell to the floor, arms spread in unnatural directions.

The stench of spilled blood filled the room. Ath opened the door and called for Benson. His words were carried through the distant hall, bouncing off the portraits. Benson emerged from around the corner and followed the scent of his master’s work. He entered the room and was immediately drawn to the corpse in the corner.

"This room needs to be cleaned again." Ath walked around the body, pointing out stains that needed to be scrubbed and belongings that needed to be burned. "But take her to the kitchen and stick her in the fridge. She’s a slice of heaven."

"As you wish."

------
Open and read the pages of my DarkerMind
where one's style of writing comes from deep within.
I don't plan to change the world; just trying to leave my mark.


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The following comments are for "Horror in Distant Halls"
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