Here’s a quickie sample of what’s in store in the upcoming book, Shudder Inn!
Sleeping pills, a bottle of wine, and a hot bath. Rebecca Graves dipped her toe in, disturbing the rose petals floating on the surface. The water was too hot, but she endured the pain as if she deserved it. Finally, it was too much, and she took her foot out before turning down the heat as the bath continued to fill.
The receipt for the pills sat crumbled on the sink, unfurling like the crushed body of an insect refusing to die.
She poured more of the crimson pinot noir, emptying the bottle just before the contents exceeded the glass. Rebecca took a drink and picked up the sleeping pills. Before she finished her sip, she purposefully tipped the pill bottle over and spilled the contents on the laminate countertop between dual sinks. There weren’t many left. She fingered them as if playing a game of checkers. She pinched one, and brought it to her lips.
One, swallowed dry, and then another. Reach for a third. How many was this now? There’d been twenty when she started. They had a bitter taste, no doubt designed that way to keep children from eating them like candy.
One half of the dual vanity was cleaned of the various sundries that’d been there a week ago. Their evidence was still visible, like the clean ring of space where a can of shaving cream had been. There was only a single toothbrush in the holder where three weeks ago there’d been two.
Steam from the bath had fogged the mirror, but she could still see her vibrant purple hair despite the haze. She squinted and reached out her thumb to clear two eye holes in the mask of steam, and then lined herself up so that her green eyes were reflected through them. Bloodshot, tired eyes, staring out from a person she couldn’t possibly recognize anymore.
As if by accident, her wine was empty. There were still pills to take, and the wine helped mask the bitter taste.
“We can remedy that,” she said as she held the glass upside down and let the crimson drip to the floor. The convergence of wine and pills in her belly made her woozy.
Rebecca moved through her apartment as if already a ghost, her open terrycloth robe sliding across the wood floor behind her like a gown. There was a regality to her stride, her brashness a gift of the alcohol – or maybe the pills. The apartment felt foreign despite how she’d lived there for years. The furniture was still in place, although half the clothes in the closet and dresser were gone. The king-size bed was unmade on one side. Her ex had taken the television that’d been in the living room, and Rebecca replaced it with a 24” x 36” canvas she’d splashed with red and black paint in a fit of anger she’d attempted to turn into inspiration. The result was less artistic than it was cathartic.
There was just one bottle of wine left. It was a merlot, which was normally too bold for her. Tonight it would do just fine. She stabbed the corkscrew in, but the cork broke halfway through the process of pulling it out. Rebecca grimaced and cursed, but then smiled at the absurdity.
“Really?” she asked as she started to unscrew the broken cork from the screw. Halfway through the act, she tossed the corkscrew into the sink, not bothering to finish the job. She opened the drawer that held her knives, and dug past the larger varieties to find one that’d fit inside the bottle. She stabbed a paring knife into the neck of the bottle, forcing the cork down into the wine.
As she placed the blade back in the drawer, she saw something her ex had forgotten. It was a Kramer by Zwilling, 6” chef’s knife, hewn from meteorite. The blade was as exquisite as it was expensive. It sparkled with hues of grey and silver that rippled like the top of a disturbed pond. The blade had cost several hundred dollars. It’d been a gift for her boyfriend-at-the-time, after he graduated from the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colorado.
She examined the blade for a long time, as if the ripples within could hypnotize her. ‘He left it on purpose,’ she thought. ‘Fucker.’ She stabbed the knife down into a butcher’s block, causing it to stick with the handle up, an act of wanton disregard for the tool that would’ve horrified her ex had he been there to witness it.
Rebecca returned to the bathroom, and when she poured the wine it glugged out chaotically as the shorn cork spun inside.
Her phone rang, rattling on the edge of the vanity. Rebecca stared at the word ‘Mom’ on the phone’s screen, but didn’t answer. Soon the call went to voicemail, and Rebecca took a few more pills. There were only a few left.
The end was beginning. It started with a long blink, as if she didn’t have the strength to open her eyes again. Next, she noticed every breath took longer – took more effort. Her legs were uncertain pillars, wavering beneath a weight they couldn’t possibly support.
She sat heavily on the bath’s edge. Wine spilled down her chin, and dripped to her chest. She haphazardly swiped it away, staining the edge of her white robe.
Without good reason, she purposefully tipped the glass. Merlot poured into the hot bath, and a bloody purple bloomed and then spread with the force of the water rushing in from the tap. Soon the color had melded with the bath, and the rose petals were swimming atop a sea of pink.
Her phone buzzed an alert that she had a message.
“Momma,” she said with tears in her eyes. She rose from the side of the tub. Her glass fell. It shattered on the tile, and she looked down regretfully at it, but didn’t bother cleaning it up. She got the phone and played the message.
‘Rebecca,’ her mother said, her concern evident in her tone. ‘This is your mother.’ She would always say that in her messages, as if Rebecca would mistake her for someone else. ‘I got your message, and honey… I… You’ve got me worried. Are you okay? Please call me. You know how I am. I’m not going to stop worrying until I hear from you, so you’re better off just calling me. Okay? I know you’re sad about Dan, and how things went, but none of that’s your fault. He’s an idiot. You know I always thought he was kind of dumb. He was cute, and he sure could cook, but it takes more to be a good man than a cute face and a barbeque brisket. Am I right?’ She paused and took a breath. ‘You can’t beat yourself up about what happened. Okay, honey? Listen, we’re here for you if you need us. You know that. I hope you know that. All right, I’m going to go. I love you. Call me.’ There was a pause, and then a quick, but sad, ‘Bye.’
No glass left, Rebecca drank wine from the bottle. Her stomach began a violent churning she expected to last through her final minutes of consciousness. Tears came fast now. Her nose started to run. She tried to line up her eyes with the holes she’d cleared in the fog on the mirror, but the spots were gone.
She started to sing a classic rock song, “This is the end…” The sickness brewing in her belly refused to allow levity. She burped and covered her mouth, afraid she might vomit up the solution she’d settled on to ease the agony she’d endured these past few weeks.
She slammed the bottle down on the vanity, and the noise pounded concurrently with a knock at the door. Rebecca froze, uncertain if she’d really heard it, or if the noise had been an echo of her action.
Again, there was a knock. Just one, as loud as a coffin lid slamming shut. Then another, the time between unsettling.
Rebecca tied the belt of her robe, hiding her nude body before walking towards the bathroom door. She nearly stepped on the broken wine glass.
There was another loud, heavy thump on the door.
Rebecca ran through the bedroom, and then the living room to get to the front door. She peered through the eyehole, but there was no one there. She opened the door, but left the chain on. Through the gap she asked, “Hello?”
No one answered.
“Izzy, Becca, is that you?”
Still no answer.
She closed the door to allow her to remove the chain, and then opened the door wide. She stepped out into the hall of the apartments, her naked feet on the scratchy, thin carpet. There was no one down either long stretches of dimly lit hall.
She closed the door slowly, more confused than frightened. Had she imagined the knocking? What sort of side effects came with suicide by sleeping pills? Hallucinations?
“It’s just a Red Reeder,” she said with a shake of her head. “That’s all it is, Rebecca. Calm down.” She forced a laugh, and then shrieked as she stepped on a shard of the broken wine glass. She fell forward and slammed her hand down on the edge of the tub as she awkwardly raised her wounded foot high behind her, trying not to injure herself more. Blood trickled from the tips of her toes.
“Good job, Rebecca.” She found it darkly comical that in the midst of a suicide she found herself nursing a wound. She sat at the edge of the tub, the water still running, and tried to pluck the glass from the arch of her foot. The fragile shard cracked with a piece still inside her. She plunged her foot in the hot water, and then turned off the tap. Tendrils of blood rose from her foot, darker than the pink water, matching the color of the rose petals on the surface. The fleeting tendrils maintained their shape for less than a second before fading into the pink hue of the water.
She rested her foot at the bottom of the tub with her heel down and her toes up. After the initial pain, the heat soothed her. Oddly, the pain of the cut calmed her as the hot water burned its edges. Soon her eyes closed.
The pain ebbed.
The pills pulled at her.
“You know what she did.”
Rebecca opened her eyes as if emerging from a nightmare she couldn’t recall. Who’d said that? It was a man’s voice, deep and rasping. A dream like a haunting, intensely real but false in the same moment, skirting reality. She was on the precipice of endless sleep, just as she was at the edge of the tub, teetering, pained, hurting.
There were still a few blue pills on the vanity beside an overturned bottle. One of them shuddered as if by an unfelt breeze, a ghost, or hallucination. She stared at the pill, waiting for it to move again.
A thundering knock at the door caused her to yelp and place her hands over her chest. The knock had been loud enough to vibrate the floor, and now both pills moved. They wobbled on their circular edges.
“God damn it!” She stood with an unsteady leg while raising the other out of the water. The heat had pushed the glass further out of her wound, making it easier for her to pinch it and pull it free. Blood quickly flowed.
Another knock, as loud as the last.
“I’m coming,” she pulled a hand towel from a ring on the wall and hastily wrapped it around her foot. On her way through the bedroom, the hand towel unfurled and fell away. She stopped to put it back on, but then there was another knock, even louder than the first two.
What did it matter if she tracked blood through the house? She wouldn’t have to clean it.
She didn’t bother wrapping the towel around her foot a second time, and headed for the living room. She paused at the kitchen, near the front door of her apartment, and picked up the phone from its base on the counter. She dialed 9, and then 1. She left her thumb on the ‘1’, waiting to press it if she needed to.
Rebecca was about to open the door without spying through the peephole, but then thought better of it and hastily looked. There was no one visible in the hall.
She made sure the chain was on, and opened the door. As expected, the Red Reeders had fled.
“Next time I’m calling the police,” she yelled out into the eerily long, empty hall. The buzz of the lights were her only reply. “Izzy, Ash, I’m not kidding…” her voice broke, as if the façade had finally cracked and her sorrow was freed.
The pain her suicide would cause her students and her parents was her only regret.
She started to slam the door, but then stopped before contact and pushed it gently shut. If they were out there, she didn’t want them to think she was mad.
Rebecca leaned on the door, and then slumped to the floor. She wept, and for the first time regret shook her resolve.
There was another voice in the room with her, quiet and tinny. “…nature of your emergency.”
She looked at the phone in her hand, and realized she’d accidentally hit the final ‘1’.
“Hello,” she said as she brought the phone to her ear.
A woman replied, “Hello, this is the Bluebird County 9-1-1. What’s the nature of your emergency.”
“Oh, nothing really. Probably nothing. I mean… Yeah, probably nothing.” The sleeping pills clouded her thoughts, and made it a struggle to communicate. The room felt like it was shifting beneath her, transforming or breathing, warping from an excess of alcohol and a stomach full of pills slowly melting and absorbing into her bloodstream.
“Ma’am, what’s the reason you called?” asked the operator, stern and commanding.
“It’s some, uh… Just some Red Reeders. I shouldn’t have called. It’s just some Red Reeders. That’s all.”
“What’s a Red Reeder?”
Rebecca chuckled. “I take it you’re not from around here.”
“You must not be from around here,” said Rebecca. “If you don’t know what a Red Reeder is then you…” She stopped, self-conscious about the way she was repeating things. She felt like a teenage stoner, certain everyone knew exactly what afflicted her. “Do you know what ding-dong-ditch is? Where kids knock on your door or ring your doorbell and then run away.”
“Oh sure,” said the woman, her tone kinder now. “Down south where I’m from they call it something else. Something I can’t exactly repeat.”
“Right,” said Rebecca as she pulled her foot up into her lap as if doing a yoga pose. Blood stained her robe. “They call it Red Reeding here. It’s an old urban legend about a guy named Reed who went around knocking on people’s doors and then running around to the back of the house. He’d break in and hide. Then, when everyone was asleep, he’d steal one of their kitchen knives and kill them with it. He’d paint his face with their blood. Hence Red Reed.”
“I think I remember hearing about that,” said the operator. “Did someone Red Reed you tonight?”
“Would you like us to send a squad car out there to…”
“No, no,” said Rebecca quickly, eager to stop that from happening. If it was Izzy and Ash, she didn’t want to risk getting them in trouble. Furthermore, by the time the police arrived she would certainly be in no shape to speak to them. It wouldn’t be long before…
Had Rebecca drifted to sleep? The operator’s sudden, forceful ‘ma’am’ hinted that Rebecca hadn’t answered.
“No, I’m fine. I mean… Sure.”
“Sure what? Would you like me to send someone?”
Rebecca was crying, and couldn’t hide the fact.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m… No, I guess I’m not really.” Rebecca shook her head. “I’m not okay. I took… Oh fuck me. Jesus, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Ma’am, I’m going to send an officer out for a wellness check. You don’t have to answer me. If something’s happening, we can help. I see there’s been a history of domestic abuse at your address. If there’s someone there threatening you then…”
“No, it’s not that. I did it.”
“I did it to myself. I took some pills.”
“What sort of pills?”
“Okay, ma’am, listen carefully. I’m sending police and an ambulance to your address. How many pills did you take?”
“I don’t know. I think, like, seventeen.”
“How long ago did you take them?”
“Not long. Ten minutes. Fifteen? I’m not sure.”
“I need you to do me a favor. Okay? I need you to try and force yourself to throw up. Can you do that for me?”
Rebecca felt the need to explain or apologize. “I didn’t mean for this to… Jesus. There’s so much blood.” She lamented her blood-soaked robe.
“Did you cut yourself?”
“No. I mean yes, but not on purpose. I cut my foot on…”
There was another single, loud knock at the door behind her. She felt the vibration in her spine.
“What was that?” asked the operator, but Rebecca didn’t respond.
She rose and opened the door in a fury, certain she was about to catch the Red Reeders in the act.
“Got you!” she said as the door opened wide.
There was no one in the hall.
“Ma’am?” asked the operator, her voice distant.
Then came the breathing, heavy and loud, emanating from the bedroom or the bloodied bathroom beyond. She stared through the length of the apartment, and saw a shadow rising from the light in the bathroom, looming dark in the attached bedroom.
She couldn’t move, even as the operator screamed her name.
A figure appeared, emerging from the bathroom and into the bedroom, a straight shot from the front door. His face a mask of red, broken only by his wide eyes and gleaming smile. A visage of madness, as evil as anything the devil could conjure.
Rebecca was frozen in fear as the meteorite hewn blade in Red Reed’s hand flashed.
He charged, his long arms loping and his back hunched like a werewolf in mid-transformation.
Rebecca broke her temporary daze at the sight, screamed, and fled into the hall. The operator continued to ask if she was okay, but Rebecca Graves barely made it through the threshold of her apartment’s front door before Red Reed reached her. The phone fell to the floor as the operator begged for a response.
Red Reed finished the job Rebecca Graves had started.