He could feel her presence. It vibrated the air around him. He was ready for their encounter. The Ballantyne Hotel had a checkerboard history. With a wide variety of reports of paranormal activity from reported sightings of poltergeist activity to strange unexplained encounters of other worldly phenomena which included the rearrangement of specific furniture, the emptying of cabinets onto the once elaborate carpeted floors and graffiti drawn on curled and peeling wallpaper once considered decorative and stylish from another era.
Constructed in 1904, down on Bawley and Symington, the hotel rose twelve stories above the red light district where all seven of the deadly sins were practiced nightly for a price. Now abandoned and vacant, the hotel was known as Ghost Central. The Ghost Writer, Simon Willett worked for the Daily Rush where he was on the staff of the Paranormal Section for as long as anyone could remember.
The Daily Rush was a publication selling sensational hard to believe stories near the checkout of most major supermarkets. Those willing to spend the two plus dollars for a copy, were people who believed in psychics and tarot card readers. Simon made a living exploring places that were reputed to be haunted and the Ballantyne Hotel, he heard, was crawling with ghosts. Her name was Rose McMullin and in 1929 she had hanged herself in room 333 after finding out she was pregnant. Her partner, a married man named Philmont Pricington had no intention of marrying her after his family fortune evaporated during the Crash in October.
Now she haunted the same room where she had taken her own life. It was no surprise that Rose was one bitter spirit after the ultimate betrayal in her previous life. Simon, however, was no stranger to meeting angry phantoms. Once inside Room 333, Simon could feel Rose was close by and ready to unleash her rampage which had been well documented by other reporters who had been taken by surprise. Carefully he removed his portable camera from his briefcase and placed it on a small table near a curio. After decades of being abandoned, the door opened without protest and he walked into the most haunted room in the hotel. Decades of neglect, the furnishings were covered with a thick layer of dust and a thick intricate network of spiderwebs clung freely from every possible corner of the room. Sunlight squeezed in from windows blanketed years of pollution creating an eerie hue of filtered light that was neither a natural nor normal shade of gray.
She was here. There was no doubt in his mind. Ghosts could be anywhere they chose and in his experience, he had seen them appear from the most unexpected places. Some even had a sense of humor, but most possessed foul moods and horrible dispositions.
He felt Rose would be one of the latter since she chose to leave the world naked with a rope around her neck in this very room.
"Why are you here?" A voice like a gale wind breathed through the room.
"I am here to talk to you." Simon answered the disembodied voice.
"To find out about who you were in life." He opened his notebook and set his camera on the dusty end table.
"Life is but a distant memory to me." She appeared as she had on the final day of her life, auburn hair hanging down on her bare shoulders, her green emerald eyes fixed directly on him. She nodded her head, but her broken neck made her head sway unnaturally.
From his years of experience, Simon knew that ghosts always appeared as they did on the final day of their life. It was what he found fascinating.
"Do you think I am repulsive like most people do when they see me?"
"Not at all." He smiled at her and shook his head.
"You are an odd sort." She laughed."So I've been told." He nodded as she put her fingers in his hair. "You're kinda cute." Her laugh turned into a girlish giggle. "At one time I was the most famous ghost in this place. But once they closed up this place, my notoriety disappeared along with it. I'm glad you're here."
"As am I." He smiled, scribbling down what she had just said.
"Are you writing down everything I say?" She asked as he nodded, "Being a ghost sucks."
"It's horrible." Ghost tears formed in her eyes, " All I do is float around this empty place. I hear they are going to tear this place down and put up some office building. If they tear this place down, I will have to find somewhere else to haunt."
"How come? What's wrong with haunting the new building?" Simon shrugged.
"There are rules." She sighed.
"What rules?" Simon leaned on a bookshelf. Realizing what he had done, Simon wiped the dust off himself.
"A ghost is a soul in waiting." She explained as she floated up to the light fixture, "You wait until they call your number and sometimes that takes quite a while. I heard committing suicide really tacks on the time, too. And there is nothing romantic about waiting. Scaring the living crap out of the living is about the only perk there is. Which brings me to ask you a question."
"And what would that be?" He asked, pushing his glasses back in place as he tilted his head.
"Why aren't you scared of me? In my prime, I could chase the bravest of them out of this hotel." She floated through him, her face twisted something that was way beyond human.
He did not even flinch."I have a high tolerance. I've been chasing ghosts for quite a while." Simon sniffed. "I've written hundreds of stories about ghosts and spirits. Most of them are just sad. Like you."
"Who said I'm sad?" Her voice shrieked.
"Seems to me you were." Simon was not in the least phased by her emotional outburst.
"He promised me happily ever after." She yelled in his face, "He was nothing more than a spineless coward." She flopped down on the divan and put her head in her hands. It was pathetic to see a ghost throw a tantrum, but he could understand her conundrum. The human heart was perhaps the hardest course to navigate and there were so many pitfalls and snares that there was little doubt why so many people would die of a broken heart.
Yes, the heart was the most fragile piece of the human anatomy. Even after the heart stopped beating, the memories left behind could still cause pain as Simon was experiencing first hand.
"Don't you dare write about me crying." She pulled a cloth out of thin air and blew her nose.
"Alright, I will omit that part." He pretended to erase what he had written.
“As I said before, you are a strange sort, Simon Willett.” She smiled, but there was a hint of bewilderment on her face. “Can’t put my finger on it.”
“Is it, what frightens most men, is the thing I seek?” He offered.
“No.” She put her finger on her lip and studied him for a moment. “During the heyday of the Ballantyne, I frightened some pretty sturdy men. I watched them run screaming out of this room. One became so frightened, he left his valise behind and never returned to claim it.” Simon chuckled.“But you...you haven’t flinched a single bit.” She put her finger on his chin and looked him over as if he was a specimen in some dark laboratory. “You intrigue me, Mr. Willett.”
“I will take that as a compliment.” He partially shrugged. “
Why don’t I scare you when I have a reputation as one of the most frightening specters there are? What would it take for me to rattle the immovable mettle you are made of, Mr. Willett?” She put her hand on his cheek and bent her head toward his face. Before he could react, she had her mouth over his in a passionate kiss. He began to gag, because it was not her tongue she forced down his throat, rather when he pulled away, a serpent crawled out of his open mouth.
“How many times I’ve wished I could have done that to him as we lie in bed together. He promised me...As she promised me that I would be his true love.” As she spoke, Simon was extracting the reptile from his mouth.
Once liberated, the impressive specimen slithered away into some dark corner of the room and disappeared from sight.
“Perhaps it is your temper that is your bane.” Simon was still trying to get the taste of the snake off his tongue
“Temper? How dare you!” Her face became like a wild storm. Wind filled the room blowing the dust and spiderwebs into a thick noxious cloud. As the dust settled, her wicked glare was still on him as if she was getting ready to conjure up yet another pestilence.
After a few awkward moments, a wicked smile crawled over her face. “Temper is what makes me who I am.”“Temper can be a barrier as well.”
Simon put his notebook aside.“A barrier?” She sneered.“Ghosts are souls waiting.” He recalled. “And until there is some sort of resolution, the spirit remains in a state of waiting. Isn’t that correct?”
She put her hand on her chin, “Yes, yes, come to think of it, I have been here quite a while. Long after the final customer checked out.”
“Has there been any redemption from this dreary dismal place?” He folded his arms across his chest.
Again she appeared to be in deep thought and shook her head after a brief pause, “No.”
“Would you like to leave this place?” He asked, tilting his head.“More than anything.” She answered.
Again she looked at him, “Holy crap!”Her sudden remark startled Simon. For the first time she had been able to frighten him as she had so many before him. Gaining his composure, he smiled and asked,
“You, Simon Willett, are one of us.” She declared.
“One of what?” He shook his head, but he already knew.
“You are a ghost.” She pointed her finger at him.There was a long pause.
“How did you know?” He finally broke the silence.
“Your notebook is empty.” She held it up, “Except for my name.”
“You are very observant.” He could not hide his smile. “The Daily Rush was bought out in 1973 and the new owner, Mr. Todd Bushnell, a man half my age, told me the focus of the publication was changing and I was no longer needed. I was fifty-five with no real prospects. I figured God was sending me my pink slip. So one night, I stayed late, opened my desk drawer, pulled out my gun, put the barrel in my mouth and pulled the trigger.”
“Sounds pretty rough.” She put her hand on his cheek.
“And so they sent me down here to escort you.” He nodded.
“Escort me?” “It’s time.” He held out his arm, “Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for a long time.” She put her hand on his arm and in the haze of the room, both of them vanished.