“So, what brings you to Louisiaville?” asked the elderly woman behind the concierge desk.
“I’m John and this is my wife Sarah,” replied the man dressed in the baby blue suit. He fiddled with his orange bowtie, nervously.
“What my husband is trying to say is that our Cadillac ran out of fuel about a mile out of town…” began the wife, Sarah.
“And now you need a place to stay the night,” chuckled the old woman, cutting Sarah off before she could finish.
Both John and Sarah nodded.
“We hear it all the time. There is quite a distance between here and anywhere else,” the crone explained. “Actually, I’m surprised that the two of you will be our only visitors this evening… Might be on account it being Halloween and all.”
John and Sarah exchanged glances. “T-O-W?” John whispered, bushy eyebrows heading towards his widow’s peak.
Sarah brought her index finger to her lips trying to hush her husband.
“Don’t feel ashamed, many of the locals didn’t realize it were Halloween night,” continued the old woman, seeming to ignore the whisper.
In silence the couple watched the pail hand of the ancient dip a pitch colored feather into a pot of similar shaded ink. A scratching sound emanated from a dusty tome as the quill was put to work.
“Surname name?” queried the crone.
“Thompson, hyphen, Smith,” blurted the man.
As the old woman dipped the pen again she looked up, her milky blue eyes unsure.
“Thompson? Dash? Smith? Or is Hyphen part of your family name?”
Sarah laughed, a short bark at the absurdity of the question. “Dash of course…”
“One never knows,” replied the older woman. “Samuel McGee Hyphen Smith was the original owner of this very house… Broke his heart when his wife died and he had to sell the place to pay for the funeral.”
“Do you see many trick or treaters?” John asked. “I’m not a big fan of little kids and a night like Halloween seems to bring out the worst in them and in me.”
“Now, now John,” Sarah purred, patting her husband on his broad shoulder.
“You’ll have naught to worry this far out of town, Thompson dash Smith’s. Kids don’t generally venture up this far as we’re the only horse for about three or four blocks,” explained the crone, flashing a gummy smile in an attempt to reassure.
John gave an audible sigh of relief like he was attempting to extinguish a century of candles on a distant future birthday cake. Sarah equally gave a look to say this news pleased her, though her expression was far quieter.
“We’ll finish taking your details and then I’ll call for Edgar our bellhop to come collect your luggage,” explained the concierge, a kind and caring glance putting John and Sarah further at ease.
“We’re from Alaska, headed south for my sister’s wedding,” explained John.
“You’ve come a long way then. I can guarantee all of our guests a comfortable night sleep or my name’s not Agnes Fingers…”
Almost like magic a new figure appeared at the mention of his name. The lights of the parlor gleamed off a bald, wrinkled head, the figure limping toward the trio.
“Indeed Edger, these are the Thompson dash Smith’s.”
“Another victim to a dire lack of fuel stops perhaps?” Edger enquired.
John and Sarah both nodded.
“Hmmm… I’ve always said they should install a station about two or three towns out,” Edgar mused.
“That you have Edgar… That you have…” added Agnes with excessive nodding.
“Are we finished here then, mother?” stated the bald head.
“Oh yes, Edgar,” stated Agnes, another gummy smile. “I’ve got them fair and banged to rights in the tome of the naming, hyphen and all.”
“Follow me then if you please, John and Sarah Thompson-Smith,” announced the older man with a curt nod.
“Thank you for your warm welcome, Agnes…” murmured John.
“Yes, thank you for welcoming us,” added Sarah with a weak smile.
“Charm I’m sure,” purred Agnes, a twinkle in her eye as the Thompson-Smith couple was led away.
“This Victorian style home was one of the first to be built in the town… The original owner…” began Edgar as he limped slowly up the elegant flight of stairs.
“Samuel McGee Hyphen Smith?” suggested Sarah.
Edgar paused, midstride and turned to look the woman in the eye.
“I’d take everything you hear from Agnes with a grain of salt,” he chuckled dryly, cracking the first smile John and Sarah had seen from him.
“Excuse me?” John interjected.
“Agnes has been… Glitching… Yes, that would be a good word for it…” continued Edger.
As the older man continued his journey one slow step at a time John and Sarah shared a look behind Edgar’s back.
John made to query the older man’s statement but at the top of the stair Edgar turned to face them.
“Room one is free this evening, our very best room…” stated Edgar with an awkward flourish. He threw open the door and bustled the couple inside. “The evening meal is served at seven sharp… I trust you are both settled in…”
“What about..?” began John Thompson-Smith, but the door was already swiftly closed.
In a moment Sarah had the portal opened again but Edgar was somehow already gone.
“I am sure it will all turn out alright tomorrow John,” John’s wife attempted to assure him. Again, she patted his meaty shoulder and the man sighed.
The room was simple, double bed with chocolate colored cover and peach sheets beneath it. In the corner of the room sat a simple whitewashed wardrobe. It was six feet tall and three feet wide. It had two doors one which had the paint peeling slightly revealing the original pine underneath. There was an almost silent click which caused the Thompson-Smith’s to turn. One of the wardrobe doors, the one missing paint swung open. A jet black dinner jacket in a style common a generation before was the lone piece of clothing found hanging within.
“Look darling,” announced Sarah, “You will be able to change your jacket after all.”
“Are you serious love, a BLACK jacket with these pants and my favorite tie?” replied John, aghast.
“We simply must keep up appearances, mustn’t we darling,” John heard his wife encourage.
Knowing this was not an argument he was going to win the man sighed and ventured toward the wardrobe. With a flick and a flourish John whisked the dinner attire from its hanger and gave it a thorough examination.
“Strange,” he mused. “My size and there is a name stitched in the collar.”
“Oh yes?” said Sarah, gliding across the bedroom floor. She took the jacket from her husband and scrutinized the garment.
“Am I reading that correctly love?” muttered John.
“Thompson… Smith?” suggested Sarah as she squinted at the stitched wording. “Perhaps it is a first and surname; I cannot see a hyphen, dearest.”
“Perhaps…” murmured the man, he was still obviously unsure. “No, no, I am sure you are right, love.”
A bell tinkled right on the tick of seven. Arm in arm the Thompson-Smith’s glided as one down the stairway. John felt underdressed but strangely comfortable in the borrowed jacket. Sarah kept step with her husband, legs long enough to match John’s stride. She still wore her driving clothes, but now her scarf was wrapped around her waist instead of her shoulders and her own jacket had been left in the room allowing Sarah to show off the crisp white blouse that somehow still looked fresh. It was not what she would have preferred to wear but one did the best with what one had. That was the Thompson-Smith way. As the Dining Room doors were smoothly opened the couple continued their elegant approach. Three gentlemen dressed in tuxedos tended to other diners. Of the eight tables, three were full. To the horror of the Thompson-Smiths, John especially, one of the tables contained a family of five.
“Sarah,” John whispered to his wife. “A highchair…”
Sarah squeezed her husband’s shoulder, firmly.
“Let us just find a table, John,” she urged with a frown. “I am sure it will be a lovely meal.”
“Madam and Monsieur! The Thompson dash Smith couple from Room One!” announced one of the waiters as he noticed the pair’s entrance. “Please step this way to our finest table.”
“Look John, see,” said Sarah with a faint smile. “A table for two with a crisp white tablecloth and candles darling… Focus on the candles.”
“But Sarah… There was a highchair,” murmured John. “A tiny child was sitting in a tiny chair.”
“A problem Monsieur Thompson dash Smith?” asked the waiter.
As they were lead away from the family and toward the flickering lights John sighed, excepting his fate.
The menu was sparse, a number of pork dishes with a vegetarian option and a few pastas. John chose the pork roast and was satisfied with the crunch of the crackling. Sarah had chosen lasagna but ended up quite disappointed with the fare; she knew better though than to complain. The Thompson-Smith’s shared the roasted vegetable medley, both satisfied as the meal eventually came to an end.
“Can we offer the two of you desserts? Coffee or tea, perhaps?” asked the waiter, quick as a flash.
“No, no, no… Thank you but no,” replied Sarah, just as quick.
“No, my wife is right,” agreed John. “We have a car to refuel and a long day of driving ahead of us tomorrow.”
“Best we retire for the evening soon, John,” continued Sarah, kindly. As she spoke she gently squeezed her husband’s hand.
“Yes Sarah, you are right as always,” agreed John, patting Sarah’s hand in return.
As one the couple rose and turned toward the dining room exit. To their surprise all the tables were empty, the other diners gone.
Back in room one the couple sat upon the bed confused.
“John I am certain there was nothing in the wardrobe when we went to dinner,” murmured Sarah.
“I am more certain than certain that there was but a single hanger with the jacket…” replied John, staring.
The jacket in question had been returned but hanging there beside it was a plain pink nighty. John expected it would be the perfect size for his wife. Under the dinner jacket and pink number there was a set of striped pajamas that John thought he saw the initials T and S stitched in red across the pocket.
“Perhaps if we sleep in our clothes, my love?” considered John, not willing to try on the blue and white striped set.
“Yes, John… Early start and all…” agreed Sarah, nodding slowly, thoughtful.
The couple sat for a few moments more. All of their bedtime rituals were impossible with their suitcases stranded in the trunk of their Cadillac.
“Shall I ask at reception about toothbrushes and towels?” suggested Sarah to her husband.
“Whatever would I do without you Sarah, my love?” John said with a smile. “Whatever would I do?”
After half an hour of sitting alone in the room John began to worry.
“Right, time to find my wife,” he decided and gave a nod, decision finalized.
The door to Room One clicked shut behind him and Sarah’s husband quietly made his way down the stairway to reception. To John’s disappointment Agnes was nowhere in sight, the desk was empty.
“Dash it all to grumble town,” John muttered.
He continued searching, knocking on a few room doors with no response. Eventually he thought of the staff down in the kitchen thinking someone there would have surely seen his wife in her wanderings. John’s pace quickened as he made his way again down the flight of steps again.
“Sarah? Sarah?” called John, somewhat worried as he continued his search through the dining room and then toward the kitchen.
“Ah, Monsieur! Monsieur!” called the waiter urgently. “You are forbidden to go in there…”
As the waiter attempted to pull John away from the kitchen doors Sarah’s husband discovered the younger man had a surprising strength.
“Leave me be and help me find my Sarah!” the older man growled.
“You shouldn’t go back there,” stated the waiter.
At this suggestion John’s face changed. The deadpan way in which the waiter spoke about something so utterly important caused something to click in John’s mind.
“Sarah is my wife!” announced John like he was addressing the company board. “Not only should I go into that kitchen, it is now obvious to me that I must!”
With a sudden burst of fury John Thompson-Smith barreled his way into that kitchen.
“I am so sorry Mister Edgar, I just could not stop him,” John heard the waiter offer as an apology.
“Francis, think nothing of it,” reassured Edgar, not glancing up. “The true nature of this house was bound to be discovered eventually…”
John ignored them both and just gaped in disbelief at what he saw.
The kitchen was filled with bodies. They were deceased versions of each and every person who had been in that dining room the night before. John considered the succulent pork roast he had enjoyed, feeling a sickness in the pit of his stomach as it dawned on him what he may have actually eaten. Then his keen eyes caught sight at the very back of the kitchen where Edgar was hunched over the torso of Agnes. The old crone’s head sat beside the bellhop. John could see the cogs in her neck whirling around with a steady ticking sound.
“John darling, have you been looking for me?” asked Sarah.
John’s head snapped around and began frantically searching the room for his wife. He found her, head on a table at the opposite end of the room to Agnes. Beside her head was a metal frame, similar to the shape John instinctively knew was Sarah’s. To remove all doubt Sarah’s crisp white blouse and scarf were draped over the bodice, a pile of cogs and springs lay sprawled nearby. The greatest horror of all though was the two automations that sat on the table either side of his wife.
To Sarah’s left was half a clay face that was an extremely accurate likeness to John’s manly features, one bushy eyebrow already evident. To his wife’s left was John’s brother Abe, down to the tiny cut above John’s older brother’s left eye. That was the spot where John had slashed his brother with their dad’s rapier. That was the last time they had been allowed to play soldiers fortyish years before.
As he spoke, Abe’s dinner jacket and chest cavity swung open to reveal the complexities within.
“Abe?” gawped John, his mind unraveling.
“Good to see you, John, funny to know this jacket fits us both,” replied Abe with a smile and half a shrug. “Seems likely we’ll both be missing the wedding.”
“Dash it all to grumble town,” the two brothers said in almost unison, one echoing the other.
Timothy Law is a writer of fantasy, horror, detective and general fiction from a little town in Southern Australia called Murray Bridge. A happily married father of three children, family is very important to him. Currently working at the Murray Bridge Library in the role of Library Manager he has dreamed since his early high school years of becoming a fulltime author. Working for a library, surrounded by so many wonderful authors it is difficult not to be inspired to write. Many of his short stories and general musings can be found on his blog - There Are Some Who Call Me... Tim! or on the Parenting Express website.