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Scared Stiff

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The broad next door won’t stop crying.

It’s at the same time every night. The soft footsteps down the worn hall, a door opened, a bit of shuffling. And then it starts. The softest wail that trails into a cry that doesn’t stop until around four in the morning.

Frankly, it was driving Dean nuts.

He asked if Jerry can hear but the kid says no, says maybe he has that “dad hearing” on account of being older.

On night five he was going mad so he asked the desk clerk about the guest in room 24.

“There’s no one in room 24 nor can there be any time soon, there's a hole in the floor and the manager’s cheap,” he said with a wrinkled nose that Dean found vaguely cute before widening his eyes in surprise.

“There’s gotta be a mistake, someone goes in that room like clockwork to cry every night.”

“Not possible, no ones there, and it’s locked.”

Now, Dean lies in the hotel bed he shared with his partner, heart pounding just a little. The world has always been more. His mama told him, and her mama told her, and so on and so forth. There’s more than the Earth and its little people making their busy ways on the pavement. In some places the more seemed less, the veil thicker. The glitz and bustle of nightclubs and missed fame can muffle it all. But in the quiet crevices, when the bustle takes a rest, the veil rustles and the More breathes again.

So, of course, Dean rarely encountered such things these days. Too much goes on. Things are too loud here. He’s most vulnerable in the dark and quiet hotels in which he has small precautions that are enough for undisturbed sleep. For the most part, these little things aren't dangerous (though that doesn’t mean there aren’t dangerous ones to meet) he’d just rather not be bothered. In fact, if this whole thing is what he thinks it is it'll be the first time he’s had to deal with any of it in a while.

Around nine he got up. His partner stirred.

“Whatcha doin', Paul?” Jerry asked. Not even awake.

“Gonna check out this crying lady.”

Jerry gave a giggling snore as he turned over.

“You dirty dog, striking when she’s vulnerable.”

“Yep, a dirty dog,” he repeated with a friendly pat. Jerry giggled once more before returning to Dreamland.

Dean stepped out into the hallway, turned around, and poured the salt he stole from the diner at the bottom of the door. With that done he lit a cigarette and waited for the show. Sure enough, around 9:14 he heard those footsteps. 

The hallway, however, was empty.

Dean rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall next to the door. The steps got closer until he was sure it was right next to him. He heard the sound of a door opening and closing, the actual door remained unmoved.

He held his cornetto close and bent down to look into the keyhole, praying to God that no one came down the hallway and got the wrong idea. Through the keyhole, he saw a dingy room with the hole in the floor the desk clerk mentioned. Overall, nothing to see. Looks like he’d need help. Some things weren’t strong enough to manifest visually.

From his pocket, he dug out a simple looking stone with a hole and placed it over the keyhole. The scene changed. The room was newer now, still shabby but there were no cobwebs. A woman set her bag upon the bedside table and letters on the bed; some fell on the floor. In a one in a million chance, he saw a letter slip between a wide crack in the shoddy floorboards.

The woman, a small, modestly dressed thing, searched through her bag for a cigarette before taking her place on the bed and looking through her letters. After she’d read them all her face took on a look of confusion; then panic. She searched through her bag, threw her covers over and over, and looked under the bed before sinking to the floor and starting her nightly wail. 

Dean had seen enough. He put his stone away and went back to his room to endure, hopefully, one last night of crying.

The next day was much of the same. He and the kid did a decent show and then it was bedtime. Unlike yesterday, Jerry was awake with post-show adrenaline and asked where Dean would even be going around 8:45.

“Going to see a man about a dog.”

“At this time of night,” he jumped onto the bed next to him, “my old man must be going through a midlife crisis.”

“Sure, sure,” Dean played it as casually as possible. “look if I give ya some extra cash would you scram for a moment?”

“Am I bothering you?” Jerry was terrible at hiding the offense in his voice and now Dean felt terrible.

“I’m sorry, Jer, I’m just a little preoccupied and you look like you need a good night to work off whatever energy you have goin’ on.”


He still looked hurt and Dean did his best to ignore the tug in his heart as he placed some dollars in his hand, “I'll see you in the morning. Bright and early. I’ll buy you breakfast.”

Jer gave a soft, yet sad, smile.

“Don’t you go broke for me now, boy.”

“It’s only ‘cause I love you, Shirley.”


With Jerry gone, Dean left their room with a trusty hairpin. Picking the lock was child's play and he was in the room in no time. It was even shabbier up close and covered in cheap wallpaper with no furniture; no doubt being used for another room. Dean's eyes zoomed in on the hole in the floor. He got to his knees to stick his hand in and for one moment he imagined being grabbed and pulled down into endless darkness to face the girl he saw. To see her looking at him with a face as pale as the moon and a mouth smiling with all teeth and hunger. Nothing of the sort happened of course, but human imagination was never rational. His fingers flitted through the dust and cobwebs and landed on a piece of paper. He pulled it out. An envelope addressed “Dora”.

Dean didn’t open it, he was curious, but this was not his business, he instead placed the letter on the floor to be easily seen. With that done, he gave it a once over and left the room. Outside he considered looking in on what would happen, but once again he felt that was not his place. He'd know if he'd done anything around nine.

The night was silent. And so were the nights after.