This story is by David A. Chase and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Trick or Treat!” Johnny yelled as elderly Mrs. Smith opened the door.
“Oh my!! A knight in shining armor has come to save me,” Mrs. Smith said with a laugh. “And what are you, dearie?” she asked me, looking at my green sweater, black jeans, and white sneakers.
“Kaleigh is ‘just the ride’,” Johnny said, doing an eerily good job at mimicking my bored tone.
Part of the deal which allowed me to get my license at 16 was that my parents expected me to drive my 13-year-old brother to his soccer games, over to his friends, and of course, out to trick-or-treating. It sucked, Candice was having an awesome party tonight, and I was stuck here. “Why do I have to have a younger brother?’ I asked silently, looking to the heavens.
No one answered of course, only deluded fools actually believed in invisible skymen that watch over us. Mrs. Smith gave Johnny a handful of fun sized snickers bars, then we were on our way to the next house.
“Huh! That’s new.” Johnny said, and I looked up from my phone to see what he was talking about.
The old Brannigan place had lights shining out of every window. The hotel had been boarded up and empty as long as I could remember, but tonight the doors were open and a large sidewalk sign said ‘Haunted Hotel Ghost Tour! Come on in! Unless you’re too SCARED!’.
“Can we go on the Ghost Tour, Kaleigh? Please?” Johnny begged.
“Haunted Houses cost like fifteen dollars a person,” I said, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Actually, tickets are only three dollars,” said an oily little man dressed in a 1920’s waistcoat with a ridiculously large gold chain running across his body. I could see him looking at my iPhone, purse, and jewelry with an appraising eye, and I clutched them a little tighter, not wanting to be robbed.
I was about to give him a solid no when Johnny reached into his jeans under his costume and handed over six crumpled dollars. The man bowed and waved us in, his eyes tracking me as I passed through the door.
“Hello, and welcome to the Brannigan Hotel. My name is Andrew, and I will be your guide today,” a smiling young man in a bright red shirt and tight black pants said as we entered the lobby. His eyes were also appraising, except it was me that he was interested in, rather than my stuff. He was cute, I felt myself blush.
It appeared that we were the only guests for the tour, which wasn’t surprising. We lived in an old mining town in northern Pennsylvania that no longer had enough people to justify a hotel, let alone a haunted attraction. What idiot had thought that this was a good idea?
Andrew continued, “Many places claim to be haunted, but the Brannigan Hotel really is, inhabited by the spirits of those who have offended The Morrigan, goddess of death and fate. It is said that the founder of the hotel came from Ireland and was a worshipper of the ancient ways. He dedicated a whole chain of hotels to the great queen and in return she blessed him with great wealth and success.”
Looking around the hotel lobby, I had to admit that I was impressed. Marble floors, sweeping staircases and large crystal chandeliers gave this place a grandeur that you normally only saw in movies. In the middle of the floor was an elaborate pattern of a raven standing on top of a skull, and the walls were covered in some type of red velvet. It was truly awe inspiring.
Andrew began explaining the history of the hotel, which my brother ate up eagerly. I tuned them out and opened Snapchat to see if anything important was going on. Suddenly a video popped up of Candice crying, her makeup running. The text said ‘I just caught Mike making out with Emily! How could he do this to me?!’
As Andrew led us up the stairs, I put in my AirPods and called Hailey, my best friend, who was at the party I was missing. “I just saw Candice’s Snapchat, what happened?”
“Mike and Emily were in the pool house getting it on, when Candice walked in. She was pissed!” Hailey said.
“Well she did kind of deserve it. Candice can be a bitch.” I said with a small laugh.
“Oh, totally, and I never understood what a hot guy like Mike saw in Candice. She sucks at doing makeup, and she wears like a size 14. Someone’s eating too much cheesecake!”
“And her hair! Where does she get it done? The local supermarket?” I responded.
“El Cheapos!” Hailey cried, tears running down her face, she was laughing so hard.
I was glad that Hailey saw Candice the same way I did. A stuck-up bitch, who only had friends because her parents were rich, which, come to think of it, was probably the only reason Mike, the quarterback of the Junior Varsity Team, was dating her. I mean she did put on awesome parties, but that was easy when you had an indoor pool and large house.
I barely noticed as we went through several rooms, finally ending up in a huge ballroom where a number of people were mingling over refreshments. I was in the middle of telling Hailey what I thought of Candice’s skin care regimen, when some old hag with grey hair and pasty white skin called out, “Excuse me, you nice young people, can you help me off this bench?”
Our guide had wandered ahead of us, so Johnny leaped to assist her. He offered her his hand, and as she rose from the bench she slipped and fell to the floor in what looked like a painful heap.
“Kaleigh, can you help me here?” Johnny asked, as he helped the woman sit up on the floor.
“Can’t you see that I’m in the middle of something important?” I snapped in frustration.
“Oh yes, tearing down a young woman who is suffering humiliation is so much more important than helping an old woman off the floor,” The old woman said coldly.
“What- How?” I started asking, then I noticed that the entire room had gone quiet, and they were all staring at me with gazes ranging from sorrow to amusement.
The old woman began to change, her skin firming up as she lost weight, and she became taller. Her hair darkened, becoming raven black, as she effortlessly stood up.
“Who are you?” I asked, fear and disbelief coursing through me.
“I am known as The Morrigan, and this was a test, Kaleigh. I wanted to see if you could show even the smallest amount of compassion. The answer is no. Fortunately your brother has not been poisoned with your envy, and as a reward for helping me, I can assure that he never will be.”
Suddenly the room began to darken, and the last thing I heard was Johnny calling my name.
Johnny stood on the street in front of The Old Brannigan Place, confused. Something seemed off… something about his sister? But she had died three months ago. And yet it felt like she had just been here a moment ago.
He tried to shrug it off as he continued down the road, he still had candy to collect!
I looked out at the sun-drenched boardwalk as Edgar sold tickets to a family of three. A man, a woman, and a young boy. I have no idea where we are today, but I know the cost of the tickets. Three. Be it dollars, yuan, euros; whatever the local currency is, the cost is always three. The number of The Morrigan.
I can remember that night when Johnny brought us here and I offended the great mistress. And I remember the alternate timeline, three months prior to that, when the tractor-trailer ran the red light, killing me instantly, courtesy of The Morrigan whom I now serve.
The young boy closed his eyes and looked upward, allowing the sun to warm his face and I hated him for it. The same hate I had felt for Candice and her good fortune. There he was, enjoying the warm sun like I never could, because the dead cannot feel anything.
Just as Andrew can never fulfill his lust, and Edgar will always be greedy for that which he cannot have, I will always feel envy for those who have it better than I. It is our curse, and existence. And so as much as I wanted to smash the boy’s face in, so that he might feel my pain, I couldn’t. It was forbidden. Instead, I waited until they entered the lobby, then went up to meet them with a smile on my face. “Hello, and welcome to the Brannigan Hotel. My name is Kaleigh, and I will be your guide today.”