Authors: Paige Williams
I was lost. My brand new
decided to defy the dealer's promises of German reliability and break down after bringing me
to the middle of nowhere. I was stranded on a dirt road that
drunkenly for 25 miles through
before staggering into a dusty collection of
either folks in this part of the country didn't believe that having a phone was vital to life or they liked lying to desperate strangers. Either way I was SOL. I kept walking
in a circle doing what
sure looked like a deranged version of the Jitterbug, holding my cell up
trying to find a signal.
As I looked around the desolate countryside I realized it was like
on the set of Wes Craven's
The Hills Have Eyes
, all that was missing was the gas station attended by a buck-toothed local bent on committing assisted homicide. As for the winding dirt track leading off to the edge of
it seemed I was already on it. Although that thought alone made me want to huddle, whimpering, in my car while regretting my movie choices, my father's reaction when I
summons scared me more.
The fact was
I had made a mess of things by woefully misjudging the potential for disaster inherent in booking a vegan convention and a NRA convention in adjoining wings of the Jones-
Convention Centre, my Dad's latest and greatest convention complex. It had taken the city's entire police force to get the city core back to some semblance of order. Dad let me know,
in no uncertain terms
, that more,
more, was expected of his only child and executive meeting room manager. That conversation had taken place on the phone, now he wanted to give me the speech in person.
To say that my father
is not known
for his understanding or compassion is an understatement of astronomic proportions. Which is
to say that he has never done anyone a favor, he has, it's just that he expects to
paid back for his favors-
with interest. One might almost say that
made a business out of it, one that has nothing to do with convention centers. As he said to me once: make a lot of money with no apparent means of income and people
to get suspicious.
the convention centers.
Dad always harp
on about the importance of family. "
," my father would say, "You need to meet a man, someone nice,
who will take care of you." I would roll my eyes and say, "Papa, I can take care of myself," at which point Dad would pinch my cheeks and hug me as if to say, 'How cute, look at my daughter, so independent.' Since I was the only child of a
I had known from my early teens that I would be expected to marry and
children to continue the family line.
, honestly, I
like the idea of meeting Mr. Right and doing the whole Mom thing.
The problem is that, although
reasonably attractive–blond hair, smooth clear skin, an athletic yet curvy figure–as soon as
guy I like finds out who my Dad is, they head for the hills. Ordinary guys that is.
people who work for Dad would
to be part of the family, but I am
not going down that road.
touch me with the proverbial 10
foot pole or they were falling all over themselves to ask me
. I wanted someone to want me for
, not my family connections.
no kids. Perhaps
Dad was so grumpy these days.
Reluctantly, I left my 21st birthday present on the side of the road and started walking, hoping that the spot on the map
found indicated a town just ahead and not
that I was a sloppy eater.
As I walked,
the dying rays of the sun
played along my skin and
tickled the fine hairs on my arms, bathing me in
warm scents of late summer. I inhaled deeply savoring the intoxicating scent of wild honeysuckle. After only a half-hour of walking the beauty of my surroundings
as I was reminded one does not buy
boots for comfort.
It was when the sun
behind the trees, turning the sky bronze, that I felt the first wave of panic. I loved horror stories
they were all coming back to me in vivid, gruesome, detail. I was a young woman, alone, at
walking down a lonely twist
road in the middle of nowhere and
the pièce de résistance of horror movie don'ts
no one knew where I was.
Perhaps worse, I
was a cute blond sporting over 25
,000 dollars worth of designer duds so it
just possessed serial killers I had to worry about. The air turned chilly and, shivering, I pulled my thin
jacket close around me--
at the moment
I would have gladly traded it for an oversized parka from
I saw it then
: A castle. I scrunched my eyes closed and shook my head, thinking that maybe, after the smog of the city, the fresh country air was making me hallucinate.
I slowly opened my eyes. Nope. It was a castle.
castles supposed to be nestled beside Scottish Locks,
scattered around the American Midwest? As I gazed at it, my eyes squinting against the setting sun, something about it reminded me of a movie-set reproduction of a haunted castle; perhaps
it was the way the lichen artistically trailed off the trunks of willows standing sentry before its gates or the way masses of cobwebs gracefully stretched within their boughs
I half expected to hear the theme of Ghostbusters.
One thing was sure: it
the sort of place I
eager to visit in the daytime, let alone after dark, but by now I was cold
hungry and desperate to talk to another human being, and there was a light on in one of the windows.
* * *
It was full dark by the time I approached the castles' entranceway, my footsteps echoing off the cobblestone path. I
, partly because of the cold, partly because I knew this was one of the stupidest things
ever done. That said, staying on the road
seem any brighter.
old and thick
and imposing, loomed above me. Slowly, giving myself time to summon what little courage I could, I gr
the antique knocker and swung it. Sound
around me, announcing my presence to the gathering darkness. A hush settled over the night; the animals stilled, even the wind in the grasses fell quiet.
The silence screamed a warning.
I closed my eyes, clenching my fists so hard my fingernails left bloody half-moons on my palms, and willed myself to be brave. After all, this was
America, how bad could it be?
A few moments
I realized I was holding my breath and hesitantly let it out. Muffled sounds, as though of someone--some
came from behind the door. My pulse jumped and became a jackhammer in my throat. I was both wildly hopeful and wildly afraid and
the same reason: in all this bleakness, this desolation,
I was not alone
When the footsteps reached the
I heard metal
on metal, as though a bolt were being fo
rced back. Goose bumps prickled
I thoroughly regretted the adventurous streak that had made me think a shortcut to my parents'
would be a good idea.
I held my
bag before me like a holy shield as the door opened, apparently of its own accord.
"Hello?" I said--or tried
My throat was dry and a rasping sound escaped
I cleared my throat and leant forward to peer into the lobby.
orches burnt in sconces by the door casting trembling shadows along cobblestone lined walls.
room was made of
stone slabs and completely empty.
tables, no paintings, no chairs.
Most importantly, no telephone.
a steep spiral staircase ascended into darkness.
like a ride at Disney
orld, the only thing missing was the slow rising wail of maniacal laughter.
"Hello!" I overcompensated and my voice echoed off the walls.
My back was hurting from bending over, peeking into the lobby.
I started to take a step inside to get a better view of the room--
they had to have a phone somewhere. As soon as I called my
I could retreat to the relative safety of the dirt road and take my chances with the snakes and hoot owls. At that moment, a man stepped forward.
to magically materialize
in front of me
, though I realized he
been hiding in the shadows
aken unawares, I let out a girlish scream and jumped back.
The man before me--if
it was a man and not one of Lovecraft's twisted imaginings
to life--was stooped and clothed in
what looked like
say it was on the far side of ripe. He kept nervously casting his gaze about
, never letting it rest on the same spot for more than a moment. With furtive birdlike
he beckoned me
to step f