Flash Fiction Friday

Off to Market

AJ Mullican

Elise stared up at the building that her husband Bill wanted to buy, shuddering at the amount of time and money it would take to fix up. Why was he obsessed with this old hotel? He was a computer engineer, not a businessman.

Maria, the real estate agent who had called them to look at the property, smiled wide, showing brilliant white teeth. “Isn’t she just adorable? A little fresh paint and some new window panes and she’ll just glow.” Her shiny black pumps clicked on the cobblestone walkway leading to the front door. Elise didn’t know how she could walk in those things without tripping on one of the many loose stones.

Grinning from ear to ear, Bill followed her with the eagerness of a puppy that didn’t know his car ride would lead him to the vet. Elise was a little more hesitant, but she trailed along behind them, eyes darting in all directions. A little paint? she thought, wrinkling her nose at the notion that a little paint could do anything for this building. The stone walls, though not so bad as to be crumbling, were stained with decades of weather.

They spent hours in the decrepit old building, every creak and groan and echo making Elise jump. Maria simply laughed and told her that it was just the building settling. Settling? Not only was that more than a tad condescending, Elise was pretty sure the hotel had been vacant long enough to have finished “settling.”

Bill asked about how many rooms the hotel had, how much it would take to restore the ancient elevator with the sliding gate, what they could expect to be able to charge for renting rooms to travelers. This area of Connecticut was infamous for its haunted buildings so it was reasonable to assume that they could charge a little more for the thrill of staying in a haunted hotel, though Maria assured them that there had been no mysterious deaths in this hotel. Elise still felt like she was being watched by unseen eyes.

Something moved out of the corner of Elise’s eye, and she stopped to look back into the hallway they’d just passed. Nothing was there.

She turned back around to discover that Bill and Maria had kept walking without her, and now she couldn’t see them in the darkened building. “Bill!” she called out. “Maria!” No reply.

`           Elise hurried off in the direction they’d gone, hoping to catch up with them. She’s just reached a dead end in the hallway when she heard it: a bloodcurdling scream. A man’s scream. “Bill!”

Running back the way she came, she craned her neck at each corner, trying to find her husband. She ran for what seemed like forever, upstairs and down, searching each room and corridor, until she reached the door to the back gardens. Elise came to a screeching halt when she saw the gruesome sculpture on the overgrown lawn.

The sculpture was rendered in some sort of metal. It had the vague shape of a children’s jungle gym, except for one glaring difference.

Instead of bars, it had skeletons. Twisted, mangled, tortured skeletons.

“Bill?” she whispered. “Are you guys out here?” She tiptoed around the sculpture, as though she might wake the metal bodies if she was too loud.

“E-elise….” The voice was Bill’s, but it was faint. It came from the other side of the sculpture, so Elise hurried to finish her circuit. When she saw Bill, she screamed.

Bill’s body was bent in unnatural angles, the hands of the skeletons holding him down. Blood trailed from the corner of his mouth, though Elise couldn’t see where he was hurt. “Oh, Bill,” she said. “I’ll try to get you out of there.” She reached out to tug at his arm, but one of the skeleton’s metal hands shot out, trying to grab her. She screamed and jerked back just in time to avoid getting caught.

“Run, Elise,” Bill said, he voice hoarse and weak. “Just run.”

Elise trembled as she stood just outside of the skeletons’ reach. “I-I can’t just leave you, Bill.”

“Ruh…ruh…ruuuuunnnnn….” Bill shuddered as the last breath left his body. Right before Elise’s eyes, Bill’s body began decaying, revealing metallic bones beneath the skin. Elise let out a bloodcurdling scream, frozen for a brief second by the shock of what she’d just seen.

She ran straight through the first floor of the hotel, feet pounding through the lobby. When she got to their car, she dug through her purse to find her cell phone. First she tried calling 9-1-1.

“Nine *sssshhht* one, what is *sskrrrr* your emergen-*skreeeeee*”

“Damnit!” Elise pressed the disconnect button. “Stupid cell signal.” She tried a different number.

“Collington Real Estate, this is Philip. How may I help you?”

By this point, Elise was shaking violently. “This is Elise Miller and your agent Maria left my husband alone at this stupid hotel property and now he’s dead and I can’t get 9-1-1 on the phone and I need you to get someone out here now!”

“Ma’am, to what hotel property are you referring?” Philip asked.

She stamped her foot in frustration. “The only hotel property you have for sale! The Rosewood hotel! Maria called us and met us here today and she left us alone and my husband got caught up in that horrific statue in the back and—“

Philip cut her off. “Ma’am, if this is a joke I’m afraid it’s not a very good one. Yes, Rosewood is our property, but it is not currently on the market, nor for that matter do we have an agent named Maria. Please do not call us again.” With that, he promptly hung up.

“Mrs. Miller?”

Maria’s voice startled Elise, causing her to jump and drop her phone. She hadn’t heard Maria’s heels on the walk. She turned around with the intention of yelling at her, but screamed instead.

It was Maria’s crisp business suit and shiny black heels, but it wasn’t Maria inside them. A metal skeleton grinned an empty grin at her. “My dear, you can’t leave without seeing the gardens in the back.”