This story is one of the October Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
“You really shouldn’t have come here.”
The beam of Cassie’s flashlight whirled around the lobby, but he was alone. Taking a steadying breath, he concentrated on the uneven throbbing of his heart. Rain drummed its icy fingers against the roof of the small castle, and the walls groaned under the weight of something black and invisible. He chalked the soft, whispery voice up to lack of sleep and rubbed his aching eyes. Cassie had been kept awake by an incessant pounding at the back of his skull, until he could stand it no longer and decided to humour his growing desire to explore the Victorian-themed hotel.
The quaint seaside town had charmed him from the moment he’d arrived and had presented a perfect resting place for him to finish his latest novel. The hotel, he thought, eerily reminded him of the castle in his book, and he tried not to let the comparison disturb him as he stepped out of the lobby and into a sitting area. The furniture that was scattered throughout the room was costly and tasteful; eclectic, but matching nonetheless. The space was dominated by an enormous fireplace over which the impressive head of an elk was mounted. Against the same wall as the fireplace hung paintings that spanned centuries, all featuring scowling and imposing figures with eyes that Cassie was sure followed him. Plush, golden carpet muted his footsteps as he walked towards a nondescript passage, beckoning him towards its cavernous depths and situated at the opposite end of the room. Surprisingly devoid of cobwebs, Cassie ducked his head under the stone archway and followed the cobbled path into the belly of the castle. The passage seemed to go on for miles, eventually narrowing until Cassie had to turn sideways in order to carry on.
“Leave this place,” floated on a breeze, but Cassie couldn’t bring himself to heed the warning. Splinters of ice twisted in the pit of his stomach, but every step that he took down the passage alleviated the pressure that had been building up in his mind since he’d first checked in. The flashlight began flickering sporadically, but Cassie paid it no attention, not even when it sputtered and went out. His grip around it relaxed, and with a clatter it hit the floor, rolling backwards and into the dark. Cassie pushed on, goosebumps rippling across his arms despite the warmth of the tunnel.
“You asked for it…” Cassie almost didn’t hear the taunting murmur, and squeezed out of the corridor and onto a balcony overlooking the sea. Thunder rumbled in heavy waves across the sky, amplifying the heaviness that was settling over Cassie’s bones. Something chuckled behind him as he was led towards the edge of the rain-soaked balcony. He stared at the frothy waves below, and he wanted to sing. He stretched his arms towards the sky, and he screamed in exhilaration as lightning ravaged the night. Gentle, ghostly hands helped him over the railing, and the wind howled.