The Laton House
The old man looked up at them through a haze of cigarette smoke. Jon fought an involuntary urge to step back and forced himself to smile.
“Hey,” Jon said, “we need a room for a week.”
The old man raised a cigarette to his lips, took a drag and exhaled. He put the newspaper he was reading down, blue eyes flicking from Jon to Mike. “You’re not queer, are you?”
“No,” Mike said, laughing.
The old man nodded. “Good. Got a couple of good old boys who don’t take kindly to it. Only two rules. First, I only take cash. Second, don’t go in a room that ain’t yours. Good enough?”
The old man put his cigarette in his mouth, twisted in his seat and pulled a key off of a board. Turning back around he said, “Two hundred a week, and that’s for the pair of you. Bathroom’s at the end of the hall, and you’ll be wanting to get your own t.p.”
Jon reached into his front pocket and pulled out a roll of twenties. The old man watched carefully as Jon counted out the bills, putting only a trio of twenties back into his pocket. He handed the remainder of the still warm cash to the old man. Letting smoke out of his nose the old man gave the money a quick count before tucking it into the breast pocket of his flannel shirt.
The old man tossed Jon the key. “Fourth floor. Room six. Pair of bunk-beds so you don’t have to share a twin.”
“Um, thanks,” Jon said. He turned to Mike, who shrugged, and together they cut across the foyer to the stairs.
Jon’s nose wrinkled as they stepped into the stairwell. The smell of old urine and bad wine assaulted him. The lighting was dim, a well-worn path visible on the stairs by the railing. Cigarette butts and crumpled up paper bags littered the floor as the occasional roach scurried from one dark shadow to the next.
Behind him, Jon heard Mike mutter in disgust. The two of them pushed on past each landing until they came to the fourth floor.
Jon opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. The carpet which ran the length of the hall was old and threadbare. The yellow wallpaper was faded, and most of the bulbs in the sconces between the rooms had blown out long ago. At the end of the hall a door stood wide, revealing an ancient sink and toilet.
The hall was chilly and smelled oddly of old cologne. Nearly all of the doors to the rooms were closed, and Jon felt a rush of excitement. He looked at Mike, who now stood beside him. Mike grinned, nodding and pointing.
Jon followed the direction of his friend’s finger, and his heart seemed to skip a beat.
There it is, he thought. Room four.
The two of them stared at the door. A light could be seen under the bottom, but they knew that no one was in there. No one had been in there for years.
Mike gave Jon a slight push and Jon nodded, heading to the next door, the one with a painted white ‘6’ on it. The door was ajar and he led the way in, flicking the light on after crossing the threshold. A single-bulb lamp on an old bed-table flickered into life, casting light and shadows around the small room. A battered dresser stood on the right wall while a surplus military bunk-bed stood on the left. The mattresses were gray with age and absent of any sheets or blankets.
Mike shut the door behind them, and Jon walked to the room’s narrow window, drawing the shade.
“What time is it?” Jon asked, shrugging off his backpack.
“Quarter to ten,” Mike answered, dumping his own backpack onto the lower bunk.
“So,” Jon said, “think it’ll take us all night?”
“Hope not,” Mike said, “but I really don’t care so long as we get something.”
The two of them sat down on the lower bunk and emptied their packs. They had food, drinks, blankets, and camcorders. Jon had even managed to pick up a new digital voice recorder.
“I am so pumped,” he said, reaching for a bottle of water.
Mike grinned. “Yeah, me too.”
“So, when do you want to set up?” Jon asked.
“As soon as possible,” Mike said. He picked up a candy bar and unwrapped it. “I figure the longer we’re in there, the better chance we’ll have of catching something on camera.”
“It should work out if those drunks weren’t playing us,” Jon said.
“I don’t think they were,” Mike said, taking a bite. “What would be the point? We’d already given them money for ‘coffee’ before they found out we were ghost hunting.”
“I know,” Jon said, “I’m nervous they were messing around, and we’ll end up wasting our time chasing another urban legend.”
“Well,” Mike said, “look at it this way. At least we’re not freezing in the cemetery again looking for orbs.”
Jon nodded, chuckling. “Very true.”
“And,” Mike continued, “according to them this guy is a fully interactive specter.”
“Yeah,” Jon said with a sigh. “You’re right. We might as well get ready.”
Mike nodded his agreement and the two of them checked the batteries and the backups for the camcorders and the recorder. Each of them stuffed snacks into the pockets of their sweatshirts and grabbed some drinks.
Jon took a deep breath and looked at Mike. “Ready?”
“Okay.” Jon stood up and led the way to the door. He opened it slowly, peering out into the hallway. No one was around.
Jon stepped out into the hall, Mike close behind him as he made his way to room number four. A shiver of excitement ran along his spine as he touched the cold doorknob and twisted it gently. The lock clicked, and the door swung in on silent hinges.
Like their room only a single lamp stood on an old nightstand, the shade already drawn on the window. A bed stood on the right wall, the sheets neatly turned down. A plain chair stood by the dresser against the left wall, a pair of binoculars on the chair’s seat. On the dresser was a newspaper, a comb, and a small mirror of polished steel. Everything in the room was clean, not a speck of dust marring any of the surfaces.
Jon led the way into the room cautiously.
“Do you want the door closed?” Mike asked.
“Yeah,” Jon answered. He walked to the dresser and looked down at the folded newspaper. “Hey.”
“Yeah?” Mike asked, closing the door.
“The paper’s from June 6th, 1959.”
“That’s awesome,” Mike said. “Where do you want to sit?”
“I’ll take the chair, put the recorder on the nightstand and get a clean shot of the door.”
Mike nodded. When he sat down on the bed the metal springs squeaked. “Do you want to kill the lights and switch to night vision, see if we catch any orbs?”
“Definitely,” Jon said. He sat down on the chair. “Ready?”
Jon glanced at his watch and turned on the camcorder and the recorder. He switched the camcorder to night vision before he set it down and turned out the light. He cleared his throat and began to speak.
“This is Jon and Mike of the Hollis Paranormal Society, and it is 10:02 on Sunday night, October 19th. We are in the Laton House, on the fourth floor. We are going to try and make contact with an entity that is supposed to occupy this room.”
Jon settled back into the chair, the room lit only by the ambient light of the city slipping in around the shade. “Hello,” he said, “is there anyone in this room?”
He and Mike sat in silence for a full minute before Mike said, “If there is, can you tell us your name?”
Again they waited.
“Can you tell us why you’re here?” Jon said.
“Are you looking for something or someone?” Mike asked after waiting.
Jon opened his mouth to ask another question but closed it as the floor creaked in the hallway outside of the room. His stomach tightened into an uncomfortable knot as. Excuses flew through his mind as the door opened.
No one was there.
Mike cursed in a soft whisper as the door swung back.
It clicked shut, the deadbolt sliding heavily into place. The room became bitterly cold, Jon’s breath bursting past his lips in great clouds. The hackles on his neck stood up, and gooseflesh rippled along his skin. His mouth became instantly dry, and he swallowed nervously.
Footsteps approached the dresser and it sounded as though keys were dropped on the furniture’s scarred top.
Looking through the viewer on the camcorder Jon saw nothing. Taking a deep breath he asked, “Is there someone there?”
The newspaper on the dresser rustled. The top center drawer on the dresser scraped out and something heavy was dragged across the drawer’s bottom.
The deadly click of a gun being cocked filled the room.
“Oh Jesus,” Mike whispered.
A pistol shot rang out and Jon dove for the floor. The window shade behind him snapped up as the glass shattered. Within a heartbeat Mike was on the floor beside him, the camcorder skidding on the worn linoleum to rest against the dresser. Two more shots rang out, bullets hammering into the wall behind the bed.
Heavy breathing could be heard in the sudden stillness of the room. A metallic clink, followed quickly by sharp clack of spent shell casings bouncing off the floor filled the air. Jon distinctly heard fresh rounds loaded into the weapon.
The cylinder on the unseen gun was spun, and a cautious step was taken. Then another.
The third struck Jon in the chin, and he whimpered.
The door to the room crashed open, and a shotgun blast rang out. Pellets smashed into the lamp and the remains of the window.
The cold in the room vanished and Jon struggled to his feet, Mike beside him. Silhouetted in the doorway was the old clerk, a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun in his hands. Light from the hall illuminated the fury on the old man’s face.
“Didn’t I tell you stupid bastards to stay out of rooms that weren’t yours?” he snapped.