Dark Places, Pale Faces

A Jack and Colette short story

The night was dark and the hour was late as the green roadster puttered down the road. Inside of it, Colette Messer yawned, slouching down deeper into the seat.

Looking over at her, Jack smiled. "Tired Doll?"

"Mmm-hmm." She murmured half-asleep. "Been a long day."

Her husband reached over and ran fingers through her shoulder-length russet hair. "Probably should find somewhere to sleep then, it'd be bad to fall asleep on the road."

His eyes swept the road. "Now if only there was somewhere to stay."

The two were hundreds of miles away from New Ophelia, and dozens from the nearest city. They'd been called away on Bureau of Prohibition business, and were only now heading home after a successful case.

The two had been driving for hours and now only wanted to find a place to rest, to sleep for the evening. However, where they were seemed to be far away from any place of refuge.

"Looks like we might have to park on the side of the road and try to get some sleep in the automobile." Jack mused as the moon rose in the sky before them. "Shame…It'll be hard to get…comfortable in the backseat."

Colette chuckled, catching his hand and kissing it. "I doubt we want anyone coming up on us being…comfortable in the car Jackanapes."

"Seems like we'll have to find a place to get comfortable then." Jack smirked. "Haven't had the chance to in a while."

The cold air whipped around the car as the night wore on, Jack finding himself having to blink away sleep from his eyes. It was going to be a long night if they couldn't find anything.

Colette leaned forward, squinting into the night. "Hey Jack…I think I see something."

She pointed ahead of them, and after a moment of squinting, Jack thought he saw what she had seen. Somewhere ahead of them, amongst the trees, there was a light.

"A hotel maybe?" Colette asked hopefully, stifling another yawn.

Jack yawned, turning down a side road towards the direction of the light. They puttered along in the darkness for a few more minutes before the trees began to thin.

Beside him, Jack heard Colette sigh relievedly as the light was revealed to be hanging beside the porch of a large house. In front of the two story colonial style mansion a weathered sign hung, proclaiming it to be a 'bed and breakfast.'

Jack slowly turned the car into the grassy yard out front and parked, turning the car off and climbing out. Walking to the other side, he pulled it open and extended his hand towards Colette.

She took it and used it to climb out, wrapping her arm around his shoulder as he put his around her back. Together the two made their way towards the house.

The bed and breakfast loomed over them, casting long dark shadows under the moon's bright light. Staring up at the shadowed windows, Jack felt a shiver run down his spine.

Something felt…off about the place.

"Did you see that?" Colette's voice sounded at his elbow and he glanced at her. She was staring up at the windows and her eyes were puzzled as she turned her head to meet his gaze. "I thought I saw one of the curtains moving upstairs."

"Might just be another guest." Jack mused. "They probably can't sleep and saw the headlights, wanted to check it out."

The woman nodded, still not convinced. "Yeah…maybe."

"Maybe we'll meet them." Jack glanced up at the window, only glancing back when Colette yawned again. He chuckled at her. "Either way. I think we need to go in, get some sleep."

"We both deserve it."

They walked up the front steps and under the awning at the bottom of the second floor balcony. pausing in front of the door. Again, Jack felt a shiver run up him.

Still, he knew how tired he was, and looking at Colette he knew she wouldn't last long either if she tried to drive. This was their only option.

Reaching up, he knocked on the door, stepping back and waiting. After a few minutes no one answered, or came to it, and so he pushed it open.

The room beyond was dark, only barely lit by candles and one flickering lamp. The lamp sat on the far side of the room, on the front desk. It dimly illuminated the face of the man sitting behind it.

His eyes were hidden by the shadows of the room but Jack could see a large toothy grin spread across the lower half of his face. In the lack of light, it looked sinister.

Jack hoped it was sincerely just a trick of the light, though an uneasy feeling in his bones said otherwise.

"Welcome to the Hotel Freedom." The man's voice hissed softly across the room. "How may I help you this evening?"

Stepping forward, Jack tried to meet the man's eyes. "We're looking for a place to stay the night, just to bed down for a few hours. We ended up here."

"Doesn't seem that lively a place." He joked lamely

The man nodded. "You are the only guests we've had here in quite a long time."

Beside him, Jack felt Colette draw up short, her breath catching in her throat. He felt his own breath shorten. What had she seen in the window then?

"Only a dollar and fifty cents for a room." The man almost crooned. "An entire dollar off the normal price. You won't find a better deal elsewhere."

The man, Jack had to admit, wasn't wrong. Most hotels ran for two dollars and fifty cents and the lack of the dollar was tempting to Jack.

"What do you think Doll?" He murmured, still unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong. "Should we?"

"I don't…" Colette yawned again. "I don't think we've got much of a choice. I don't think we could drive much further."

Jack nodded at her, before stepping forward and pulling out a wallet, fishing money out. "Here. Should be enough for one room."

He placed the money on the counter and stepped back. The man's hand slithered out and took the money, retreating back into the darkness.

"Second floor, third room on the left." One hand snaked out and pointed behind him as the other dropped keys into Jack's hand. "Have a good night and take care."

The husband and wife headed up the stairs, trailing the man's chuckling behind them. As they came up to the door he had indicated and unlocked it, a cold blast blew out towards them.

It was dark, and Jack fumbled around for a moment before finding the chain for a lamp. Clicking it on, light washed over the room, revealing the two beds and the wardrobe between them.

Jack glanced at one of the beds and glanced at his wife, grinning slyly. "Looks like it's going to be a tight squeeze tonight."

Glancing back at him, Colette returned his grin. "I don't mind Jackanapes. You know I don't."

Her voice dropped as her eyes became mischievous. "Besides, we've slept in tighter corners."

Reaching up, Jack placed a hand on her back, beginning to run his fingers up and down her spine and causing her to back into his touch. "Indeed we have."

"Keep doing that Jackanapes." She murmured, almost purring as she wriggled against his touch. "That feels wonderful."

That was when the little girl giggled from outside their door.

The two suddenly sprang apart like scalded dogs, both of them snapping their heads towards the door.

"Jack…" Her eyes slid between the door and her husband. "I thought the man said no one else was here."

Jack's eyes remained firmly rooted on the door. "Maybe it's just the owner's daughter. You did say you thought you saw the curtains move."

"Maybe" Colette murmured, still seeming unconvinced. "You'd think he would have mentioned it."

"You'd think." Jack conceded, before stepping towards the door. "I'll go check it out."'

A hand on his arm stopped him as Colette shook her head resolutely. "Not without me. 'Till death do us part' remember? That includes investigating creepy children in old mansions at ungodly hours of the night."

"She might not be creepy Doll." Jack quipped, leaning forward to peck his wife on the lips. "Still is appreciated though."

She rolled his eyes at him, grinning. "Oh hush you screwball."

The door swung shut behind them as they stepped out into the hallway, each of them peering down a different side. In the half-light of the hallway, Jack felt as his nerves began crawling up and down his back.

Something definitely felt off about the place.

They crept deeper into the hallway, away from the entrance and further into the half light. Nothing stirred as they crept through the hallway, finally coming to the end of the hallway and a door.

Jack cautiously pushed it open, revealing another set of stairs leading down. He glanced back at Colette who nodded and together the two descended.

The stairs led through a solitary, lazy spiral, before coming to end at another door. Jack went to push it open

It didn't budge as Jack tried to push it open and he stepped away, frowning at it. "Maybe she went some other way."

"You know…this is usually the part where the guy in the cloak kidnaps the main character." Colette observed from over his shoulder. "Maybe we should go back."

There was humor in her voice, but not as much as there was normally. The house had her rattled.

Jack chuckled. "Maybe we should."

His own laughter sounded hollow to his ears, sucked into the otherworldliness of the place.

They'd began to step away when the little girl's laughter sounded again, this time from directly on the other side of the door. Jack froze, options worming their way through his mind.

"Jack…?" Colette asked quietly, her voice wavering.

Her husband finally sighed. "There's every chance that's a real little girl in there, and that she's gotten herself trapped."

"What if…what if that man out there kidnapped her? What if she's being held here against her will." Jack paused.

Stepping forward he tapped on the door. "Hello? Are you okay in there?"

"Are you in there?" He added silently, under his breath.

A moment passed, silence stretching from the other side of the door. Just as Jack had begun to step away, the little girl's laugh came again, light and cheerful and almost mocking.

He glanced back at Colette who nodded, a mother's worry shining in her eyes.

Putting his shoulder to the door, Jack went to break it down. As soon as his body connected however, the wooden door swung open and he stumbled in.

On the other side was an empty ballroom, dark as the rest of the house. The ceiling rose high above them, counterpointing the slick wooden floor. In the corner sat a lowered pit, where the orchestra would have played, and probably had.

A doorway was set into the far wall,

In any other time, any other place, Jack knew Colette wouldn't hesitate to try out the dance floor, and he'd be right behind her, curved into a frame. At the state of the night however it barely crossed his mind, and he figured she was the same.

Glancing back, he saw her eyes transfixed on something past him. Something shone in them that he wasn't used to seeing in her face. Something that weighed his stomach with cold dread.

Fear.

She stepped past him, eyes still locked on something in the dark room beyond. Mouth opening and closing several times, she finally pushed subdued words past them. "Jack…Jack do you see that?"

Turning, Jack frowned for a moment, seeing nothing different about the room. Then his attention turned to the open doorway and the dark room beyond.

The dark room that now blazed with light.

He too tentatively stepped towards it, almost mesmerized by the blinding light. As his eyes finally adjusted to the light, he saw what it was.

The room-it must have been a parlor-was lit with candles and had chairs arranged in rows. They were all angled facing the front of the room.

All were angled towards the casket against the far wall.

For a second Jack was eight years old again, and standing in the doorway of the front room of his house, unable to enter and see the body of his sister laid face up in her casket.

He hadn't wanted to see her, had been too afraid to say goodbye. There'd been too much to say that couldn't be wrapped up in the short span of time before they buried her.

In those last few minutes before he was parted with her for the rest of his life, he could only watch her unmoving face and hope that was enough.

The room he stood in was older, grander, but the sentiment was the same. He could feel the sadness in the room, the unequivocal grief at losing a child. It tore at him and through him as he approached the small casket.

He could feel Colette at his side, her head down as her shoulders shook. With nothing else to do, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him as she wept through her own memories.

The air was heavy with sorrow as they cleared the last few feet, coming to a stop directly in front of the casket. Laid inside it, the girl was small and pale, her black hair framing her small upturned face.

"Oh Jack…" Colette murmured quietly, her fingertips brushing the edge of the elaborate coffin. "Jack she couldn't have been older than six."

"The poor baby."

Reaching up, Jack took one of her hands, squeezing it. "It's not Evie, sweetheart. That's not our little girl."

"I know." Colette conceded. "But just the thought…the thought of anyone having to go through something like that."

"I know." Jack murmured quietly, letting go of her hand and reaching up to stroke her hair as she leaned her cheek against the top of his head. "I know."

The two stood in silence for a long moment, staring down at the unmoving child. Finally, Colette broke the silence. "Who do you think she was? Who were her parents?"

"What do you think happened to her?"

A girlish giggle broke out from behind them and the two turned quickly, eyes searching the back of the room. Nothing stirred behind them in the bare room, now devoid of the candles and the chairs.

Turning slowly back towards the casket, Jack saw to his horror that it now laid empty, no evidence of the girl ever being there.

"Do…Doll?" Jack muttered, his voice catching. "Doll…something's not right here."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw her turn her head towards the casket, gasping in horror. "Where…where did she go?"

The sound of giggling was accompanied by running footsteps and Jack and Colette both stood, turning to try to locate it. When Jack's eyes passed back over the casket, he froze.

It was gone, gone completely, like it had never even been there.

"I think we need to go." He muttered at Colette, who could only nod in complete stunned silence. They quickly made their way out of the room.

They backed all the way up the stairs and down the hallway, not stopping until they reached their bedroom. Walking in and shutting the door, the two took a moment to just stand and stare at each other.

"Whatever that was." Jack finally managed. "We're never talking about that again, right?"

"Definitely." Colette responded, equally as breathless. "Never happened."

"Bed then?" Jack asked.

The woman nodded. "Bed. Definitely bed."

Without another word both changed into their pajamas, Jack pulling Colette onto the bed next to him. Wrapping his arms around her, and feeling her do the same to him, he nestled his face in the curve of her neck,

Closing his eyes, he breathed her in, pushing back the darkness with her warmth.

Blinking awake in the middle of the night, Colette squinted her eyes against the darkness, waiting for them to adjust. She could feel Jack against her, and looked down, smiling at the top of his ginger head as he snored softly.

Her eyes swung back up to the far side of the room when she froze. They weren't alone.

There was a darker shadow against the far side of the room, human shaped and tall. Two glowing eyes watched her from somewhere six feet above the ground.

She felt herself freeze up, unable to look away from the thing staring at her and her husband. Her breath labored in her chest as she tried desperately to peek through the darkness and see what it was.

The thing never moved and Colette just lay there and watched it, unsure of what else to do. She wrapped her arms protectively tighter around Jack as a low humming filled the room.

Hush, little Baby, don't say a word,

Mama's gonna buy you a Mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird don't sing,

Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring.

And if that diamond ring turns brass,

Mama's gonna buy you a looking glass.

And if that looking glass gets broke,

Mama's gonna buy you a billy goat,

Colette's eyes felt heavier and heavier as she tried to keep them open, and tried to keep focused on the thing. She yawned, suddenly feeling very, very tired.

Still she held onto Jack tightly, even as her eyes closed and her head drooped, her body suddenly feeling very heavy and very tired. Yawning one final time, she felt herself falling asleep a moment before the world dropped away from her.

And if that billy goat get cross,

Mama's gonna buy you a rocking horse.

And if that rocking horse turns on fire,

Mama's gonna buy you a dog named Rover.

And if that dog named Rover won't bark,

Mama's gonna buy you a horse and a cart.

And if that horse and cart fall down,

You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

Light shone in through the window as Jack opened his eyes, yawning against the early morning. Shifting, he found himself wrapped in Colette's arms.

He chuckled and wriggled deeper into her embrace, hearing her murmur in her sleep. Glancing up into her face, he saw her blink open her olive green eyes.

"Is the man gone?" She asked blearily, her eyes unfocused.

Jack frowned worriedly up at her. "What man?"

Memories of the night before, the girlish giggling and the phantom funeral. It had felt so surreal, so unreal.

There'd been nothing about a man though.

"He was over there." Colette gestured with her chin, rubbing it against the top of Jack's head. "He watched us all night."

Rolling over and readjusting in her arms, Jack stared at the far wall. "Well he's gone now."

He frowned. "Maybe we should follow his example."

"Yeah." She yawned, unwrapping him from her embrace and sitting up slowly. "This is place is…this place is strange."

"It's dark."

Jack slid off the bed, followed a moment later by his wife. Quickly the two got dressed and collected their things, heading towards the front of the building.

"'How was your night?" The voice of the innkeeper floated up to him, the man apparently already having taken up his post in the early morning hours.

Jack turned to respond to him. "It was…" He froze.

There was no one standing behind the counter, and the dust clinging to it seemed to claim that no one had for a long time.

"Jack…" He heard Colette murmur from beside him. He could only nod and rush them out the door.

"I know."

The two were almost jogging by the time they made it through the doorway and back out to their car. Throwing their suitcases in the back, they slid into the front seat and Jack started the engine, pulling away as quickly as he could.

It seemed the place was not finished with them yet.

As the car pulled away, Jack spared one last glance towards the haunted hotel. He gasped as one hand reached out to catch Colette's arm, almost reassuring himself she was real.

The hotel, what had been the hotel, was nothing more than a burnt out wreck, having apparently succumbed to fire decades before.

And somewhere, moving in the darkness, was a tall, grinning figure.