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(These stories are from the book As Trees Turned Away. There are 24 more available in the collection. You can buy it by clicking on that link. Have a lovely day, and most of all:

Enjoy the book!)

Massacre Max: Part 1

        Lights flickering in the darkness, barely visible even when they were working; this was the first sight I was met with of Hawken Inn. Quite a dreadful place to stay, if you ask me, but no other choice presented itself. Some things are worth staying for, and some even dying. And sometimes, you cannot leave because outside the locked door is a man who wants to kill you.

        It was a miserably cold night when my car broke down on the side of the road. October, just a week before Halloween, and already it was getting close to the forties. Ridiculous, especially for me, who was living in South Florida only a year ago, where it hardly ever got below the seventies, no matter the time of year. My car, which had moved with me, was getting up there in age, and so, of course, it decided to break down at the worst time possible. On the side of a lonely road, it started sputtering to a stop. Reluctantly, I veered to the side of the road, far enough that a large car could easily pass without having to switch lanes. Thank goodness the road was on a downhill slope so I was able to get over. I was not worried about a semi truck coming through here, since there had been no other headlights than my own for dozens of miles.

        The road was slanted more than I had expected, and unintentionally my worn-down vehicle rolled into a ditch on the side of the road. Striking the steering wheel with my fist, the horn went off loudly and made me jump.

        “Dumb thing,” I muttered as I pulled the door handle. At least I had not run into any trees or telephone poles.

        Opening the door to the cold air outside, I pulled my coat tightly around me and trudged up the road, the full moon high overhead in the cloudless sky. After about fifteen minutes of walking, I saw lights up ahead. Getting closer, I could make out a few flickering letters. The last three spelled Inn so I began to veer in that direction. I could stay in there and spend the night; then I could call the mechanics in the morning to come fix my car, whatever the problem was with it.

        The inn was right on the side of the road, so it was not long before I stood inside and began to walk over to the desk. Reaching it, I asked them if any rooms were open for me to stay the night in.

        “Room 210,” the desk attendant answered me without looking up from her cell-phone.

One quick money transaction and a few minutes later, I was still waiting for her to hand me the key. After shifting awkwardly a few times, I finally asked, “Can I have the key?”

        “Oh yeah, sure. Whatever, dude.”

        She handed me the key to my room, so I grabbed it and walked away, irritated but just ready to go sleep, even if it was in yet another hotel bed. I had, after all, been on the road for three days, sleeping in any hotels or inns I could find. This was, by far, the most stressful work trip I had ever been on, and for the amount of money I was being paid, or lack of it, my nerves were stressed much too far.

        Throwing open the door of my room, I threw my bags on the only bed and looked around. No television, no couch; just a small fridge, a bedside table with a digital clock on top of it, a closet, and a bathroom. I grabbed some shorts and a t-shirt, my toothbrush and toothpaste, and snatched a towel from the closet, where they were stored; I still have no idea why they were put in there.

        About half an hour later, I laid my head down on a pillow to sleep, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, I could be out of this dump by noon and on the way to my destination, as long as the mechanics could get my car figured out. Judging by the first impressions this hotel had made of the town, I would not be surprised if tomorrow night ended the same as this one.

        I awoke in the middle of the night, startled by voices directly outside my door. Whispering ever so frantically, they reminded me of two people who were running out of time and had to plan something very quickly but had trouble focusing, like young students in school. Then I realized they were not just two people; the voices belonged to two little girls. Frustrated already, I was about to get up when the doorknob started rattling as if somewhere was trying to come into my room.

        Stranger things were happening now, though. A man came up outside and started talking to them. He was speaking in a strict, displeased tone to the two little girls, and they in turn answered him in the same, frantic little voices, muttering low enough that he could not understand. Then, the doorknob kept shaking as they tried to come in. Someone began throwing their weight into it.

        Sitting up straight in bed, all of the noises went away. I was alone, and the strange dream was over.

..............................................................................................................................

I woke up the next morning and found myself drenched in sweat. I started to think that maybe everything was just a nightmare, which I had continuously, despite my therapist’s “best” efforts. After washing my face and shaving in the bathroom, I debated whether or not to shower again. I suddenly remembered all of the problems my car had last night, and how it was still sitting in the ditch beside a probably car-less road.

        Crap, I thought. After going over to the phone, I called the mechanics, but nobody answered the phone. Are you kidding me?

Frustrated and tired, I decided to go downstairs and check out the hotel. Maybe they would have some food down there in a vending machine. Even though it was a short elevator ride down to the first floor, I decided to take the stairs instead. There were fewer people that way.

        When I reached the receptionist desk, I found an older lady sitting there, half asleep. To my surprise, across the room there was a breakfast bar. For real? The hotel has a free breakfast, even though it looks like a third-world country.

        I walked up to the long table full of food. Waiting in line behind an elderly man, the eyes of everyone in the room stared at me. Standing unashamedly of my horrid appearance, I looked around at each of them and individually glared until they would look away. Surprisingly, every single one of them continued to stare. I also realized that they never blinked, not even once.

        Freaks.

        After grabbing a plate half-full of whatever generic, probably nasty food had caught my eye, I sat down at one of the few two-person tables that were scattered at random around the room. How did I not notice these tables last night? The table I sat down at was empty; I did not need to deal with people right now.

        Of course, because I did not want to talk with people, fate had it that a woman came and sat down at my table across from me with her own plate of food, not even half as full as mine. She was not as tall or fit as me, but very pretty in her own way. Her blonde hair kept falling over in front of her eyes, and to be honest I was very attracted to her from the first time she sat down, even if I wanted to be alone.

        “Hello there,” she said with a distinct northern accent.

        Those northern people. Rubbing the sleep from eyes, I managed to say between yawns, “Hey.”

        “This was one of the only seats left, so I thought I would just come sit. At least I won’t have to watch you take your dentures out like the rest of them,” she said with a smile.

        I smiled and swallowed my bagel. “Yeah. So what’s your name?”

“My name is Emily. Yours?”

I said, “My name is Jedidiah, or Jed for short.”

After a few minutes of awkward silence, I asked, “So what

do you think of this place?”

        “The hotel you mean? Well, it certainly is unique. Gives me the creeps, really.”

        Remembering my dream last night, I asked her curiously, “Why do you say that?”

        She took a sip of her coffee before answering, “Have you ever heard of Massacre Max?”

        “Who?”

        “Well,” she began, “they say that he is a ghost who haunts this place. The legend of him is pretty gruesome to be honest, and scares the heck out of me.”

        I laughed and commented, “Well, I don’t get scared very easily. Sounds like a dumb name, really. All those folk legends have dumb names.”

        “I agree. I used to be a crime reporter, but now I mostly freelance for different magazines since my job was cut from the paper. My new job requires me to travel around the country and report on things like that. Supposed hauntings and stuff, you know, but I doubt any of it is true. I have to write columns about them, so that’s why I’m here. This particular story is pretty freaky.”

        “Sounds pretty lame, especially when the ‘ghost’s’ name is Max.”

        She just smiled and shook her head. “Well do you want to hear the story or are you going to act all ‘Mr. Fearless?’ I bet I can scare you by telling it.”

        “Go ahead and tell me, but I doubt I’ll be scared at all. I’m not the type to get nightmares easily,” I lied, trying to impress her.        After clearing her throat, she began dramatically, “Once upon a dark, dark night, a long time ago….” and we both laughed. She continued, “This hotel, back in the day, used to be a really busy place, or that’s what the Internet says anyhow. So there was this man who came in here one night, and he called himself Max when he bought a room. Along with him were two little girls who had bright red hair. They checked into a room on the top floor; at the end of the hallway, most versions of the legend say.

        “That night, he went on his ‘massacre.’ They started at the top floor, going room to room and killing people in the most horrific ways. First, they would gag the victim to keep everything quiet while they worked. The two little girls would hold the victim down while Max did horrible things to them with all of his tools. He normally carried a knife, a rope, and an axe. If half of the rumors were true, this man must have been a surgeon or something. He had a sick, twisted, horribly imaginative mind.”

        “Isn’t that what most legends say, just to draw people in?” I asked sceptically.

        “Yes, I know, although it clearly hasn’t done much for this business. Anyway, let me finish.”

        I nodded to her and she continued with the story. “After Max and his little girls went down to the second floor, they were met by a janitor. Max grabbed him and left his little girls to kill the visitors on the second floor while he went down to the first floor. They were, after all, just as horrible as him.

        “Arriving there, he found two cops at the front door. Nobody knows why they were there, but they saved many lives. Some think that a guest had called the police, and some believe it was just great luck that they were there. Whatever the case, seeing he had a man captive, they shot Max immediately, who with his last words said, ‘You’re coming with me!’ and slit the janitor’s throat with a knife. Nobody knows what happened to the little girls, but most say that they were killed or escaped and then died later in life, without resurfacing ever again. The story goes that their spirits are still on the third floor, where the whole massacre began. Max even comes to visit them sometimes, and there have been a few sightings of all four sitting around the vending machine: Max, the little girls, and the janitor. Some of the most hardcore believers say it is only a matter of time until Max once again will lash out, most likely at this very hotel.”

        I just looked at her incredulously and laughed to myself. “I’m sorry to say, but that didn’t frighten me at all.”

        She just shook her head and smiled again. “Okay then. I guess you are Mr. Fearless. I’m definitely not.”

        “I can’t see why,” I mocked teasingly. “With an obviously fake story like that, it’s a surprise anyone is frightened.”

        “Well, I really am and staying here by myself is unnerving.”

        I laughed and took a sip of my coffee. It burnt my tongue, and I spit it out all over the table as we both started laughing. Everyone else looked at us as if we were crazy, but it was not important what the old geezers thought.

        “I have something to ask you, if you don’t mind,” Emily asked.

When I didn’t respond, she went ahead and asked, “I’m going to be here for another night or two gathering more information for my column. Would you mind staying here with me? I mean you don’t have to sleep in my room or anything. I know this is kind of a big favor to ask, but you could just, like, book your room for another two nights. I get really scared with nobody else I know here, and it would be nice to have a friend. We are in the middle of nowhere, after all. I haven’t seen any other towns for miles around.”

        Well that explains the mechanics not answering. They’re probably hours away, I thought to myself. “Yeah, I’m on a business trip but I guess I can stay. Only for one more night though.”

        Ten minutes later, we stood up to go and she hugged me, thanking me once again for staying. I admit, I liked the contact, and this girl was really attractive. It was my pleasure to stay another night with her; maybe it would turn into more nights after.

        We rode the elevator up, and after she went into her room to shower, I went into mine as well. I noticed a cup of coffee on my bed-stand and remembered that I had not drank anything since last night.

        What, does room service give away free coffee too? I thought before noticing a note next to it. It read:

        Drink lots of coffee today, so you’ll have the energy for tonight. Lots to do and can’t wait to meet you-

                                                                                Max.

Nightfall: Part 2

Drink lots of coffee today, so you’ll have the energy for tonight. Lots to do and can’t wait to meet you-

                                                                                Max.

My heart skipped a beat in my chest as I looked down at the note below me. Standing there, trying to decide what to do, I panicked. The coffee cup was soon flying out the window. Hoping it did not hit anyone, I jumped up and ran to Emily’s room. Pounding on the door, I realized that the letter was still in my room, but decided not to go get it. She had to know as soon as possible what had happened.

        Emily opened up the door and, seeing my face, which must have been pale as a ghost, asked worriedly, “What’s wrong? You look like-”

        “Massacre Max. He’s back!” I interrupted her.

        “What? What are you talking about? That’s just a-”

        “He left a note for me,” I said hurriedly. “On my table. With coffee.”

        “Is this just your plan to get me in your room?” she asked, amused. “After all, I thought that you weren’t scared?”

        In my frenzy, I stammered, “I lied. I’m actually terrified, especially because of something that happened last night. There was this dream and it just messed with me and now he’s back and he left me a note!

        “Well, why didn’t you bring it?” she responded, still chuckling to herself. “If you want…”

        Does she think I’m joking? I thought, not hearing what she was saying. My shock at her unwillingness to believe me clouded everything she said. Under most circumstances, I would be annoyed. Right now, the only feeling I owned was fear.

        “I panicked and chucked the coffee out the window. The note’s still in my room,” I answered at last, interrupting her. “Please, Emily. Just come see. I promise I’m not joking.”

        She looked past me into space for a minute, her expression very thoughtful. A smile was still on her face, but it began to look unsure; my frantic craze had affected her at least a little bit. When she turned back to me, she was still smiling, but there was a clear difference. Her eyes were a mixture of fear and disbelief.

        “Jed, the most likely thing would be for someone to have left the note, trying to copy Massacre Max and get more popularity for this hotel. Let’s go back and check out the room. They should be long gone, but maybe we can find a shoe print or something. I don’t know; I’m not a detective. As much as I want to believe you, the story is unbelievable.” Seeing my woebegone expression, she added, “Come on,” and took off past me, holding my hand.

        As we walked back to my room, I recited what the letter had on it. Trying to remember odd things that might have happened during breakfast or after, I could not think of any. We decided that nobody in the breakfast room would have overheard us talking and then had time to prepare the coffee and note, and also get out of my room, not leaving a trace besides the “gifts.” We reasoned that nobody was trying to play a trick on us for publicity purposes, unless the staff at the hotel somehow knew who Emily was beforehand. Otherwise, there would be no reason to suspect me or her knew about the legend. To just guess wildly and leave those in anybody’s room.... That was preposterous, though. Then again, the whole situation was.

        While we talked for a few minutes, I got the feeling she was just saying things to make me feel better, and did not really believe any of it. No matter how hard I tried to push that thought out of my mind, it returned more forcefully. When I was just about to ask if this was the case, we reached my room at long last.

        Twisting my key in the room door, I pushed it open and my jaw dropped in disbelief. All around, my clothes were scattered and the wallpaper was slashed open in areas of the room. My bedsheets were thrown off and the few furniture pieces were overturned. Walking over to the only upright thing in the room, the small table where the note was, I discovered a knife had been stabbed through it, pinning the words to the desk.

        Emily ran up beside me, nearly tripping on the countless articles of clothing, towels, bedsheets, blankets, and everything else. She saw the knife, the note, and the expression on my face. Then she wrapped her arms around my stiff figure and leaned into me. I knew she was scared; so was I for the first time in a long time.

        “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

        I could not bear to look down and see the tears I knew would be filling her eyes. My eyes wandered anyway around the room except for her face, hoping somewhere inside that this was all a joke. Perhaps it was some sort of sick reality television show. Only problem was, I did not see a camera anywhere. Still, my eyes wandered, begging to be told it was not true. I could not be in danger.

        Looking over to the window, I saw a man standing there, watching us. He was wearing all black, but I could just make out his face. He was a terrible man to see, ruthless and cold-blooded. I knew I had never seen him before, and yet his eyes were familiar and his icy demeanor stayed with me. This wild man was not staying at this hotel. No sane hotel would let the likes of him inside to stay. After all, this hotel had made that mistake before with him, and many people lost their lives because of it.

        Just as he disappeared -I cannot imagine how- Emily asked “What do we do now?”, voicing the same question that had been tormenting my mind for the last few minutes. I decided not to tell her about the man I saw. Certain as I was it was Massacre Max, she did not need to be any more scared. Some fears are better faced alone.

        Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. “We can only protect ourselves. I don’t know how he is still alive, or what he wants to do, but we need to protect ourselves.”

        “How do we do that?” Emily asked me.

        “Barricade ourselves in your room, since mine is a complete wreck. I have a small gun with me, and we can take some knives from the kitchen downstairs.”

        “Why do you have a gun?” she asked.

“I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” I joked, trying to add some humor to the menacing environment.

Instead of laughing, she ignored me and asked, “Are you sure this will protect us?” Her eyes were becoming more fearful by the minute.

        “Emily, this is the best shot we have. I’d rather shoot and miss than get killed with my finger on the trigger.”

        “But, like you said, he can’t be alive.” When I did not answer, she continued, “Jed, what if he’s a…”

        “A what?”

        “A ghost.”

        I shook my head, trying to seem in control. “There are no such things as ghosts. Like you said, this is probably just a copycat.”

        “But, Jed, your gun won’t kill a ghost.”

        “Emily, you’re just gonna have to trust me, okay?”

        About two hours, a trip into the kitchen, and lots of sneaking around later, I was riding the elevator yet again, this time up to the top floor. Emily was hungry, and so told her to stay in the room while I went to get snacks from the only vending machine in the hotel, which was on the highest level. Both of us needed some kind of food or drink if we were to stay up most of the night together, since sleep was out of the question. While the elevator sailed upwards at a slow pace, I tried to erase the story of Massacre Max and reminder of his rampage beginning on the third floor, but it still managed to give me the creeps when I walked out of the elevator. Surely, this would not be a repeat of that night… would it?

        Looking around frantically, I tried to hurry down the hallway, nearly running when I saw the vending machine. It was at the center of the hallway, in a little nook with a few chairs and a coffee table; such a short distance felt like forever to me.

        After I reached the vending machine, I looked around one more time to make sure nothing was sneaking up on me. I should not have been this worried, because it was only five, which, by most standards, is not even night. Laughing to myself at my stupidity, I grabbed the treats and two cans of soda, walking away from the machine and back down the hallway. Despite the momentary humor, my nerves raced unsteadily inside.

        My blood ran cold when I heard two girls giggling behind me. I knew they sounded familiar, and it was only then that I realized my first night here was only a few seconds away from being my last, when Massacre Max had these same girls tried to break into my room.

        Slowly turning around, I saw two innocent-seeming girls at the end of the hallway, smiling at me. Their little red cheeks and just-as- red pigtails made them seem like sweet, joyful girls. They continued giggling at me, while I slowly realized what they were holding in their hands: A rope with a noose tied at the end. Then one of the doors opened on the side of the hallway only ten feet in front of them, and a janitor’s cart was pushed out.

        Behind it was a janitor, balding and old, with a depressed look on his face. He pushed his cart out into the hallway, facing me, and pointed his gnarled old finger at me. “You! You killed me!” To my surprise, he let out a maniacal laugh and threw his head up, revealing his neck, where I saw a long, blood-red slash. I remembered what Massacre Max had done to the janitor, and dropped my food and cans, which sprayed soda everywhere. Then I took off sprinting towards the elevator, chased by the crazed howls of sickening joy.

        When I got inside, I rapidly pushed the buttons inside the elevator, trying make the doors shut. The little girls began to walk towards me, and then, when the doors were only half closed, they broke into a run, coming nearer every second. When there was just a sliver of vision left, they stopped with their noses pressed against the door, in perfect sync. Their terrible eyes staring into my soul from a couple feet away, I backed up quickly, landing violently with a thud on the ground, which increased their inhumane giggles.

Behind the unearthly quick twins, the janitor remained where he was, cackling insanely with his head roaring up at the ceiling. My only protection, the doors, finally closed and I waited, nerves on edge, to get back down to Emily’s room. I had left the gun with her, so hopefully she was alright. It bothered me, though, seeing these three. The two girls and the janitor clearly were on the floor I had just left. Where was their leader, though? Where was Massacre Max? I prayed on that short ride down that he would not be there when I opened the doors. If the first thing I saw upon reaching what I imagined was safety were those terrible eyes and that sickening grin...

        At last, I reached the second floor, and the doors slowly slid apart. Emily came running towards me, screaming and with blood covering his face. Darting to the side, I made room for her come in and she collapsed on the floor yelling, “Up! Up! Go!”

        Since the little girls and their janitor freak-show were upstairs, I slammed my fist into the first floor button. Just before the door closed, I looked back through the crack and saw a man’s face only a foot away from mine, with the door separating us. I will never forget the look on his face. It was a look of pure evil and a love for the horrible things he had done and wanted to do to me.

        The doors finally shut after what must have been an eternity, and we began the slow ride down to the first floor. She smelled of the blood soaking her, and I could almost taste the fear, both from myself and her. This was really happening; we could really die.

Kenny G’s “Dying Young” theme played quietly over the speakers, an odd soundtrack for my worries. It seemed to me the most peculiar thing at the time, and I thought, Why would they play music on elevators?

        We reached the first floor and raced out. As we stood there, Emily assured me she was alright and it was just a few shallow, small cuts which bled a lot. She was too blood-covered for me to tell where it was, so I decided her injury, however lethal, would have to wait. I ran over to the front door and tried to pull it open, but it stayed shut. I supposed it was locked, though why I could not say. Outside, there was no light from the sun to be seen and the moon may have been rising overhead; it must have been later than I thought. A few stars were faintly visible.

        Lights above us began to flicker and my breath caught in my chest. Within a few seconds, only a couple lights remained, and those were soon to go out. I grabbed Emily’s hand and we darted behind the receptionist desk, hiding down where we could not be seen.

“Why are the lights out?” she asked frantically. When I did not answer, she added, “Where is everyone?”

        Trying to keep my cool, I said, “I don’t know, but they are probably better off than us.”

        I noticed a computer was on, and looking over I saw the pictures of four security cameras placed around the hotel. The first was the camera on the third floor, the second was the second floor, the third was the outside one and the fourth was of the main lobby. All of the cameras went dark as the lights all around the hotel flickered and eventually shut off with a pop.

        “The electricity isn’t out ‘cause this computer’s working. I don’t know why…” but I did not finish my wondering statement. Nothing made sense right now. It’s because he’s a ghost; he can control the lights. I pushed the thought out of my head, labeling it as nonsense, but still it nagged at me. Ghosts were not real; both Emily and I knew that.

        “Jed…” she said my name, begging for me to make everything better. No longer was she the resolved, skeptical, well-traveled woman I met at breakfast. Now she clung on to me like a tight jacket, hoping I had the answers. All I could do was stare at the screens and watch.

        The top one flashed on, lights in the hallway illuminated only on that floor, and I saw one of the little girls with the rope. She had it in her hands and was using it like a jump rope while bouncing and nodding her head to the beat of a song. Such joyfulness and cheer filled her empty eyes, it unnerved me to stare too long, but my eyes still would not turn away. Emily grabbed my hand when she saw it, and buried her head in my chest. There was nothing I could do.

        After this hallway’s light stayed on for a little bit, the second floor light also came on and there was the other little girl. She stood with an ax in her hands, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum. Emily began to cry, shaking uncontrollably. This second little girl also bounced and nodded her head, even while below the neck she stood perfectly still. Only then did I realize that the two girls moved in perfect sync; one jumped over the rope, and the other swung simultaneously. Their heads, also, moved together, in a rhythm I could not comprehend.

        The light in the lobby came on, and by looking at the camera I saw the janitor exiting the elevator. He was humming a song, pushing along the cart. I realized the girls were nodding and swinging and jumping in tune to that song, possibly humming it themselves. The beat remained steady and calm, unlike the heart inside my chest.  From the screen, I saw the janitor stop in front of the closed elevator door and look over at the receptionist’s desk, behind which we hid, out of sight. He smiled for some reason. Then all three stopped humming, and everyone stood entirely still, with no more swinging or jumping. All of the lights went out again. Emily let out a little shriek and continued crying, but then I heard the sound I dreaded. Between her sobs, I could just make out a faint song being hummed behind me but it was not a little girl’s voice, or an old man’s voice. It was their leader’s. It was Massacre Max.

***************************************************************************************

        What you have just read is the first-person account of Jedidiah Whitton. Shrouded in mystery, nobody knows the true identities of these two unfortunate souls. Clearly, he survived, and possibly her, although what happened after the confrontation with Massacre Max is, like too many things, also unknown. This account was found many years later in a small shack near the Canadian border, where it appears Jedidiah escaped to and wrote this document. Regretfully, an unknown number of pages was ripped from the end of this copy, and some of the original pages were bathed in blood. It appears as though Massacre Max finally caught up with Jedidiah and possibly Emily, taking parts of the account with him.

        While events regarding the mysterious nature of Hawken Inn were previously unknown, we know have part of the story, and are constantly searching for the rest. Hawken Inn’s real name has been changed many times, and now it is part of a popular hotel chain. The large company has kept the secret safe for many years, and will continue to do so unless the remaining pages, which hopefully will be found, contain the true identity of the Inn nowadays. The only advice I can give you is this: choose your hotels wisely. You never know which one may be Hawken Inn, and you never know if Massacre Max will come to visit you. Never trust long hallways with vending machines, always look before you step out of an elevator, and never, ever take a cup of coffee from a stranger. That stranger, however normal and human-looking, could be him. And he, in turn, could be that song hummed from behind you, ever so slightly, until he takes your last breath in his hands and squeezes.

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