Christmas Nightmare Inn
Outside of her best friend’s house, Paige honked the horn for the third time, sighing in frustration when she saw Tabby through the window, yapping away on her cell phone. This was supposed to be their time away from all the bullshit Serenity was full of this time of year. The Christmas parades, the decorations, and the infernal Christmas music everywhere drove her insane.
It was supposed to be just them. No boyfriends, no other friends, and certainly no cell phones once they put the little town of Serenity behind them.
Laying down on the horn once again, Paige snatched up her cell phone from her purse to call her best friend, when the door finally opened and Tabby walked out, straining to lug a ton of luggage while trying to hold her cell up to her ear with her chin at the same time.
Paige jumped out of her pretty red Mustang, not failing to notice just how gorgeous it was for the umpteenth time since her birthday, “Let me help.” She took the biggest and heaviest of the suitcases from her friend and groaning as she tried to pick it up.
“We’re going to be gone for a week, not for years, Tabby, Paige groused, and get off the phone, you can do without your Romeo until we get back!”
Tabby rolled her eyes but did as her friend asked, blowing the bangs of her shaggy blond hair out of her eyes with a single breath, something she had made an art of around the time they hit middle school.
“Okay, okay, geeez, I was just saying bye. You would know how that is if you ever got your head out of the books long enough to notice that there are boys in the world.”
“I know there are boys in the world, but unlike you, I don’t want to work at the local diner for the rest of my life.” She shot back, sticking her tongue out at her best friend to take some of the sting out of her words.
“No talk of college classes, no talk of life after college, or anything like that this Christmas. You promised, remember? Just me, you, and all that perfect snow up at the Maple Leaf Inn.’’
“No problem,” Paige hoisted the suitcase into the backseat as Tabby threw her other luggage into the open trunk. “But remember, the cell phones stay in the trunk from the time we get to Maple Leaf and they don’t come out until we leave on Sunday. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it. I don’t like it, but I got it.”
Paige smiled at her friend and decided to snatch the phone from her as soon as they got to the inn. That girl was way too addicted to cell phones and her on again, off again jock boyfriend, Peter. Paige put the Mustang in gear and headed out of town. She was happy to see the last of the garland hanging on the light poles, the Christmas lights on the many houses, and the carolers in the middle of town square.
As they pulled into the driveway of the inn, the girls didn’t speak for a few seconds. The beauty of the Maple Leaf Inn and the surroundings taking their breath away.
The inn was at the top of a mountain and as far as you could see, there were trees and snow. The ski lifts that led down to the slopes were quietly running and Paige could see people in parkas and gloves lugging their skis down the path leading to the ski lift.
She smiled at the sight of some kids building a snowman in the corner of the yard, remembering when she was that young.
“This looks exactly like it did in the pictures,” Paige said, loving the way there was no traffic and the snow lay undisturbed on both sides of the Inn.
“Yeah, everything here is perfect, except for giving up my cell phone.” Tabby laughed, then handed her phone to Paige to lock away in the trunk for the whole week.
“You’ll get it back at the end of the week.” Paige noticed her friend’s eyes following the phones as she put them away, slamming the trunk, and tucked her keys in her jean’s pocket.
Suddenly feeling as if someone was watching her, the hair stood up on the back of Paige’s neck. Running her hands up and down her arms, she turned her head this way and that hoping to spot whoever was watching her. She caught a glimpse of a shadow of the corner of her eye, but when she faced it head on it was gone.
Brushing the feeling off, she followed Tabby inside to unpack and start enjoying the week away from everything in Serenity, before they headed back to college at the first of the year.
After settling into their room, Paige and Tabby headed downstairs to see who else was staying at the Inn. It was so quiet, they were beginning to think they were the only guests this Christmas until they came to the main room of the building.
Seeing some of the college age guests sitting around the fire in the main lobby made Paige feel a little less uneasy. She didn’t know how to explain it and for sure wasn’t going to tell Tabby, but she had felt someone watching her since they got there, even in the shower, where she knew for a fact she was alone.
She was shampooing her hair when she felt a cold chill raise up and down her spine. Shrugging it off as just a draft, she finished her shower. She was drying off when she felt a cold breath on the back of her neck. She hurried to get dressed and met Tabby in the room once again shrugging it off.
Paige settled into an overstuffed chair close to the fireplace hoping to shake some of the chill that had settled around her. After a quick round of introductions, she fell quiet. She wanted to study the people and hear what they were doing here. Besides, Tabby talked enough for both of them.
It had started snowing shortly after they arrived and the radio predicted it would snow for the next two days. Frank, the innkeeper had turned off the lights in the room and lit candles, so the only source of illumination in the room was the candlelight and the flames of the fire in the hearth.
The warmth of the fire and the laughter in the room started lulling Paige to sleep until she heard one of the guests ask about the legend of the Maple Leaf Inn.
“What legend?” she asked, sitting up in the chair and looking around the room at the people gathered there.
“There’s a legend that a young girl was killed right here at this very inn, about forty years ago,” one of the guests said, trying to make his voice eerie and failing.
“That’s a legend that’s happened in every little town, in every city in America,” Tabby said, rolling her eyes “You need to do better than that if you want to scare anyone.”
“No, the boy is right,” Frank said, hesitating for a second as if he wasn’t sure he should go on. “There was an accident here forty years ago. Well, some say it was an accident and others who say they intended to kill that poor girl, as sure as me and you are sitting here breathing.”
“They?” Tabby asked, the fire crackling in the hearth the loudest sound in the room, as everyone waited for the innkeeper to answer her question.
“Well, her friends, of course,” he answered, his voice hushed, almost as if it was being blanketed by the thick snow coming down outside.
“But,” Tabby started, when Paige interrupted her.
“Let the man tell the story, Tabby,” she almost snapped, not knowing why. Ghost stories were never her thing, but she really wanted to hear what the old man had to say.
“Geez,” Tabby complained, but sat back against the cushions of the couch in front of the fire and crossed her arms to listen.
Paige found herself sitting on the edge of her chair, the flames from the fire casting shadows in corners, shadows that for some reason put her on edge, as the old innkeeper took a deep breath and once again started to speak.
“Well, it was the Christmas of 1976 and my wife and I had just opened the doors on the Maple Leaf Inn. Lord, we were excited about that grand opening and there was quite a turnout, let me tell ya. More of a turnout than we’ve had in years,” he added, his mind seeming to drift back in time.
“About the girl that was killed,” Paige prompted him gently, wanting to hear more but not wanting to be disrespectful.
“Oh yeah, where was I?” He took his hat off long enough to scratch the top of his head where the hair was almost non-existent.
“We hadn’t been open for business about three hours when the six of them came tumbling in, laughing and having a good old time. That one, I tell you she was something, with her long black hair and that perky attitude. My wife swore she was trouble from the start, but I shushed her, not wanting to lose business and all.
“Noelle was the quiet one and I could tell that she didn’t belong with the others, not really. She hung back a little and seemed real timid when that black haired one said anything to her. I even heard Noelle telling the red-haired one that she shouldn’t have come here more than once over the next couple of days.
“I guess it was about midnight on the third day when it happened. I remember I was in the dining room setting the table for dinner when I heard the most blood-curdling scream. It was pitch black outside, mind you, and the snow was coming down something fierce, almost like it is tonight.” He paused to listen to the wind howling around the inn, shaking his head.
“At that scream, I knew something was wrong but didn’t know where to go to find it. Then, before I could grab my shotgun and head out back, that black haired girl come running in here like something had caught her ass on fire, blood all over her sweater and spattered in her hair. The rest of that little group was right behind her, looking at her like they weren’t sure what to say.
“I’ve always wondered how that girl got blood all over her when the rest of them didn’t, but the cops said it was an accident and let it go, so what could I do?” He slapped his leg and stood, “Well, I need to check the generator unless we all want to be in the dark when this storm gets really bad.”
“Wait,” Paige said, jumping up with him, the others looking just as confused as she was. “What happened to Noelle? Did they find her? I thought you said she was killed?”
He stopped, his back to them as he gazed out the window at the snow coming down so hard you couldn’t see a foot in front of the glass. “Oh, they found her alright. About three miles from the inn, once the storm had cleared. The wolves had torn her up pretty bad by then. They do tend to come in when the storms start. They get hungry, you know.
“That black haired one said it was just a joke. You know, one of those sorority initiation prank things you girls are always pulling. It seems they dared Noelle to walk out into that blizzard, said that she could become one of them if she did. Being the town girl that she was, she agreed. After all, what one of you doesn’t want to be accepted by the “in” crowd.
“Noelle walked right out into that snow, never did see the pack of wolves until it was too late. The black haired girl said that she heard the growls and tried to pull her away, but it was too late. That’s how the blood got on her.”
“So, Noelle died because she was eaten by wolves?” Paige asked, shivering at the thought of dying so horribly.
“No, sweetie. That’s what’s so bad. Somehow the wolves let her go, but she was hurt and bleeding. Instead, of finding her way back to the inn, she wandered away from the light and froze to death. The kicker is if those girls had run in here a little faster, I might could have saved her. As it was, though, the police weren’t able to find her until after the storm and by then it was too late.
“All the way up here for Christmas vacation from that high-end college in Serenity, and that’s how she died.” He shook his head sadly, tapping his leg with that old hat he kept fiddling with “It’s a shame, really. They say you can see her ghost on nights like this when there’s no moon and the snow is coming down hard. She wanders those hills looking for revenge on the girls who let her die. I’ve seen her myself, covered in blood, in only those Christmas pajamas she was wearing. She’s always surrounded by that pack of wolves. Seems only fitting really, since the townsfolk hunted down that pack and killed them all. I guess misery loves company, don’t it?”
Paige swallowed hard at the thought that someone from her college in Serenity had died so horribly. Her gaze drifted to Tabby, who seemed as unconcerned as if he had been telling them a bedtime story.
“Anyway, it’s about time for all of us to be in bed, don’tcha think?” Frank turned to leave the room, then turned back. “Come on girls. The missus said you needed towels in your room. I’ll get them for you on the way up. That old generator has run this long. I’m sure it can wait a few more minutes while I help some pretty ladies.
Paige hid her smile at the old man treating them all like children but noticed that no one argued with him. It wasn’t until they were in the hall outside of the linen supply closet that she noticed the photos on the walls. “Sir, what are all of these photos on the walls?” Inspecting them, seeing the laughing faces of quite a few young people, none of them dressed the way they do today.
“Oh, those are pictures of the guests the first week at the inn. We wanted a little something to remember all our guests by and putting pictures up on this floor of the inn seemed like a great way to do that. They all loved it and some of them come back to this day.”
Paige and Tabby walked slowly along the hall, studying the pictures in front of them. Students from different colleges were pictured in every photo, in the groups they came in.
The blood drained from Paige’s face as she stopped in front of the last picture on the wall. “Sir, who is this?” Her hand shook as she reached up to touch the image of the girl standing in the middle of a group of six.
Frank sighed as he walked up behind her, “That would be Noelle and her group.” He pointed to a lone girl standing a little away from the main group, looking lost and shy.
“That can’t be,” Paige turned toward the man, “Are you sure?”
“Yep, sure as we’re standing here. That one right there,” he paused to tap a forefinger to the girl in the middle of the group, looking so snooty and larger than life next to the rest of them “is the black-haired girl that ran in here that night.”
Paige felt her heart beating hard in her chest, studying the photo intently, hoping she was wrong, but knowing she wasn’t. “That black haired girl is my grandmother.”
After assuring Frank many times that he hadn’t hurt her feelings when it came to her grandmother, Paige and Tabby finally made it to their room.
“Wow, Paige, just wow,” Tabby said, as soon as the door closed behind them. Your grandmother was here and she looks exactly like you or you look exactly like her. However, that goes. Your grandmother, the stuffy, do as I tell you person that has made our lives miserable since birth?”
Paige shook her head, still unsure of how to react to all of this. “My grandmother killed someone.” She couldn’t believe she was even thinking such a thing of the strait-laced, hard ass woman that was her grandmother, much less saying it out loud.
“No, you heard Frank. It was an accident. And come on Paige, ghosts? You of all people can’t believe that nonsense.”
Paige shook her head again, then laughed, “You’re right I’m being silly. So my grandmother was here when a girl died. She tried to save her, right? Frank even said so himself.” She wasn’t convinced herself but decided it was best to let it go.
“Right,” Tabby said, not looking too convinced on that part. “Let’s get some sleep. We have a long day of fun and snow tomorrow!”
Paige nodded and turned down the covers on the double bed on the other side of the room. After changing into her nightgown, she nestled down into the bed and turned to see Tabby looking at her.
“It’s going to be okay, really,” she said, prompting Paige to nod once again.
The girls had been reading for about an hour, something they did every night to wind down when Tabby shivered, tossing the covers back “It is freezing in here,” She hugged herself as she headed over the thermostat for the room, “It says it’s 75 degrees, but I can see my breath.”
Paige sat up in the bed, watching as the mirror in the corner of the room frosted over. “What’s going on here, Tabby?” she pulled the blankets up to her chin as the room seemed to get colder by the second. Glancing over at the mirror she could have sworn she saw the word bitch in the frosted glass, but when she blinked and looked again it was gone.
“The temperature just dropped to 35 degrees. Something is wrong with this damn thing.” Tabby hit the thermostat, her teeth chattering, then ran back to dive under the covers on her bed.
“There, that must have worked,” she said, a few minutes later, when the room started to warm back up.
“Yeah.” Paige looked around the room, unconvinced. Something was going on here and she was starting to be afraid that it somehow involved her and her grandmother.
The click, click, click of something hitting the window invaded Paige’s dreams, causing her to sit up abruptly and rub the sleep from her eyes. She looked over to where Tabby was sleeping, only to see her friend was no longer there. The blankets were thrown back as if she had gotten up suddenly, but her slippers were still beside the bed.
Thinking that she had just gone into the bathroom, Paige got out of bed and walked over to the window to see what the clicking was. She figured it had started sleeting sometime in the middle of the night. When she got to the window she saw that it hadn’t and couldn’t find anything that would cause a clicking noise.
Glancing back at the clock on the nightstand, she saw that it was three in the morning. She looked towards the bathroom to see there was no light on under the door. “Tabby?” She called softly, for some reason afraid to be loud. When she received no answer, she poked her head out into the hall, looking both ways, but saw no trace of her best friend.
She started out into the hall, only to be stopped by the click, clicking noise at the window again. Slowly, she turned and walked back into the room, chill bumps running up and down her arms as she approached the window.
It wasn’t sleeting, but the snow was coming down even harder than it had been when they went to bed. Squinting through the rapidly falling snow, she could barely make out what looked like a form standing under the lonely street light in the parking lot of the inn.
Her heart in her chest, Paige listened for any sounds that her friend was coming back down the hall, squinting to try to see what was standing under the streetlight. Was it a wolf? Was it a human? A sudden gust of wind caused the snow to clear for just a second, long enough for Paige to see that the figure in the snow was human.
Forgetting everything but getting to her friend, Paige flew down the stairs in only her thin nightgown and no jacket. The wind bit like a knife as she pushed her way through the snow, only to see what looked like Tabby running into the woods. “Tabby! Wait!” she screamed, running after her, not even feeling the bitter cold snow under her feet or realizing that she herself was sprinting further and further from the comforting protection of the inn behind her.
Tabby heard a noise like someone was yelling her name from where she was snuggled under a blanket in front of the fireplace. She had decided to read when she couldn’t sleep and made her way to the study, so she wouldn’t wake Paige.
She listened intently then when she didn’t hear anything else went back to reading her book snuggling further into the blanket to get warm.
No matter how fast she ran or how loudly she yelled, she couldn’t get Tabby to turn and look at her. What if she was hurt? What if she froze out here?
It wasn’t until she heard the growls behind her that Paige realized she was lost. Turning in circles, all she could see was blinding snow. For the first time, she realized her teeth were chattering and her feet her feet were burning like she was stepping on needles with every step. Looking down, she saw both feet were cut and bleeding from the briars and rocks she had run across in her haste to get to her friend.
Jumping in fear when she heard the growls once again, she looked up to see a pack of wolves coming across the hillside. Something about them wasn’t quite right though. They faded in and out of sight and their eyes glowed an eerie red.
Paige turned to run but caught her foot on a branch sticking out of the snow and toppled into the ravine below. She could hear the growls of the wolves as they rushed down the ravine to find her. She scrambled to her feet and tried to claw her way to the top, getting stuck in the knee-deep snow instead. Covering her face with her arms to protect it, Paige prepared to die.
Suddenly, the growls stopped and Paige thought the wolves might be gone. Dropping her hands, hoping beyond hope that they had, she screamed when she saw what was before her. The wolves had drawn back to surround a girl in Christmas pajamas making the scene eerie but sad in comparison. The pajamas were ripped to shreds and gashes peppered the girls face. It was Noelle, the very girl that her grandmother had caused to freeze to death in this desolate woodland.
Her eyes full of hatred, Noelle raised an arm to point a solitary finger at Paige as she crouched terrified in the snow. Noelle smiled as the wolves attacked. The pain was unbearable as the wolves ripped pieces of flesh from her writhing body. Blood soaked the pristine landscape. For her final thought, Paige finally understood what had drawn her to the Maple Tree Inn on this Christmas vacation. She had just turned 20 years old, the same age Noelle was when she died.
Noelle had finally gotten her revenge.
This story was first published in an anthology, all rights have reverted to me the author. If you enjoyed this story, check out my books here.