"Midnight's Toll"

Flashing lights and enormous crowds were never really my thing. I preferred the silence. Of course, music is one of my greatest passions, but… The pen stopped its dance, and the words stopped flowing, as the twenty-five year old man groaned in annoyance due to his "lack-of-inspiration", commonly known as "writers block."

"Maybe I should bang my head against the wall. I hear it has a tendency to help," voiced the frustrated writer. Ruiz Graves was currently traveling through Europe for his newfound loss of inspiration. What for? To get an actual idea for a novel he has been trying to get started on. As of now, his patience is wearing thin. The worst parts of his trip since he came to Barcelona would have to include: the "writing", the tasteless coffee served at this "roach motel" and the fairly noisy (arguing) neighbors right across from his room.

From what he could hear for himself, they were arguing about some old house a good deal away from this city. In any case, Ruiz was tired. Of course just saying 'tired' is one heck of an understatement. By now the argument had been moved into the hall.

Ruiz sighed and crumpled up his now useless idea, threw it into the wastebasket and got ready for bed, pj's and all. He turned off the light and curled up under the sheets. He stared through the glass window and marveled at the almost full moon, hanging high in the midnight sky.

As he slowly began to drift off to sleep his neighbors suddenly quieted down. Ruiz heard the final words that were uttered in the discussion. "No one will enter that house and leave unscathed. Especially not after the last one."

As he let the words linger in afterthought, the church bells began their toll. The clock struck midnight.

When he woke up the next morning and went down for breakfast, one of the arguing neighbors from the night before came up to him. "Señor, I hear you are in this city for inspiration, yes?" His tone of voice was the kind you would hear from someone who was trying to get you to do something. Oddly enough, it was also the kind of voice that could convince you to actually do that "something".

"Why yes I am," Ruiz replied.

"Well then! Why don't you join me and my wife for a little road trip eh?" he leaned forward and pressed his elbow against Ruiz's torso. "We've been looking for the best place for a vacation and thought 'Ey! Why not just go everywhere!' Sound good? We're on our way to Gerona today."

Ruiz was getting a bad feeling about this whole thing but decided it was just the coffee. "Well why not? I was planning on leaving today anyway. It will be nice to know someone who knows the landscape. Thank you for your invitation. My name is Ruiz Graves,"

"HAHA! No need for thanks amigo, it will be nice to have someone other than my wife to talk to," exclaimed the neighbor in that thick accent of his.

"I heard that," remarked a voice. Ruiz and his neighbor turned around, only to wince as a stunning beauty with annoyance clearly written on her face came up to them. Her eyes seemed to glow as she glared at her husband.

"Ah. Good morning my dear. Señor Graves, this is my wife Amada."

"It's very nice to meet you," said Ruiz. He studied her carefully, not entirely sure why he was not at ease as he usually was around other people. Something just didn't feel right.

"The pleasure is all mine. Forgive my husband for his rudeness," said Amada in that silvery voice of hers.

"Oh pardon me. My name is Richard Bautista," he got up and took a sweeping bow, only causing his wife to knock him square in the back of the head.

So the three of them packed their things and headed out. By noon they were halfway to Gerona. It was a perfect day for a drive. They could see the waves crash upon the sandy beaches as they drove along.

"You two must travel a lot to know this coast so well, that or you just live very close," remarked Graves

"Ahh, si si. We have lived on this side of the country for many years. It is our home," replied Richard.

"Yes, a long time indeed. We have no intention of moving anywhere, though a little vacation now and then is not a bad thing for the soul, no?" stated Amada.

Suddenly the day seemed to take a turn, as the sky turned dark. Thunder could be heard in the distance. It only got worse when the steady drizzle that formed turned into a downright pour.

"Looks like we're gonna have to stop for awhile," declared Richard "There's a big old house a little ways ahead, we can stay there till this lets up"

The mansion, in its magnificence, had a dreary look to it. They went inside. To say the place was beautiful was an understatement. Right when you enter, you just can't help but notice the immense staircase. The room they had entered was circular with high ceilings, and a crystal chandelier hanging in the center. The multiple doors surrounding the staircase seemed strangely odd, as the whole place seemed odd. Heck the idea of going with these complete and total strangers was odd.

In any case, it seemed the feeling was mutual; Richard and Amada seemed much paler. It began to grow colder; it certainly felt as if someone had actually died. Only then did he notice strange carvings on the big oak door that they had just came from. He had to back up a little to see the entire picture. The ocean was the most of the picture, but just behind it, is a cliff, and on the cliff was the very same mansion he was currently in. The other doors held carvings as well. They all seemed to depict the ocean in some form or another. Ruiz stepped closer and noticed the sharp jagged rocks didn't completely resemble cliffs.

"I don't remember any cliffs near here" Ruiz mumbled to himself. Then he saw why these cliffs bothered him - they were made of skulls.

The thunder crashed and he heard footsteps behind him. "Amada what are these?" he asked in the silence. "Amada?" He looked around only to see no one. The once clean and magnificent mansion seemed dirty and unkempt. Cobwebs could be seen hanging in all the little notches of the room. The bigger ones were all around the staircase.

"Richard?" he called, the room suddenly felt a lot colder than he believed to be possible. His breath turned to fog. Sweat was beginning to drip from his forehead. He was beginning to panic.

His curiosity somehow made him drag his feet toward the staircase. Despite the cobwebs, he makes his way up the steps. When he reached to the top, he was immediately met by the portrait of a couple. He gasped - it was the same couple he knew as Richard and Amada Bautista.

He felt all the blood rush from his face. He turned around to leave the mansion. "I have to get out of here," he says to himself as he stomped down the stairs. He headed towards the door he entered through. It wouldn't open. Terror ebbed away at his already thinning sanity. He tried the door next to it; it wouldn't open either. In a frightful frenzy, he tried all the other doors. None of them would open. Ruiz closed his eyes in order to regain his composure. Again, he heard footsteps among the creak of the old floorboards. With these footsteps came a silvery laugh that chilled him even more so than the atmosphere. He could only imagine what he would see when he opened his eyes. He heard church bells ringing. He opened his eyes, only to face the clock on his nightstand.

Ruiz sat up in a dazed state. Breathing heavily he slowly took in his surroundings. He was in his hotel and it was still dark out. Trembling slightly, he gets up from the bed and sits at his little desk. He quickly jotted down his latest idea. As he put his pen down, he looks through the window and up at the almost full moon, hanging high in the midnight sky. The clock struck three, and the church bells began to toll.

"The witching hour," he mused. He chuckled to himself as he crawled back into bed.