The Hawthorne Inn: Elle
Elle had just passed the “Welcome to Los Angeles County” sign forty-seven miles from her home when her car puttered out and began to smoke. Elle rested her head on the steering wheel for a minute then picked up her phone. Great, no service, she thought and stepped out of the car into the cold morning air. Her car had stopped in front of a long, dirt road that led to the top of a hill, where a large, wooden building lay.
Elle popped the hood, searching with a flashlight for the source of the problem. Tubes and metal illuminated under the beam—a mechanical mess she was unable to navigate through. She slammed the hood shut. Looking back at the dirt road, she noticed an old, wooden sign: “The Hawthorne Inn”. Elle fetched her suitcase from the backseat and began to trek up the steep hill.
A large man stood at the entrance to the inn wearing a black trench coat with rubber boots. The smoke from his cigarette made her sneeze as she struggled to pull her heavy bag up the steps. The man watched her and said nothing. When she reached the front doors, he grinned and held one open for her.
“Thank you,” she said.
He grinned and took another puff of his cigarette.
The lobby was bigger than you would have expected after seeing the exterior. Yellow lights gave the room a sickly feeling, like an old folks’ home or a mortuary. Elle dragged her bag toward the front desk, where she tapped on the metal bell that sat lonely on the counter.
There was a spiral staircase in the right corner of the room. Elle had always wanted to have a spiral staircase in her home, but for now, her home was a small studio apartment that had absorbed the smell of the previous resident’s eleven cats. Elle looked longingly at the staircase and the wood railing as the murmurs of an old man echoed throughout the room.
“Did you ring the bell?” A lanky, wrinkled man hunched over the counter.
“Yes. Are you open?”
“I’m here aren’t I?” he said and scoffed.
“Do you have any rooms available? My car broke down outside and I just need to stay the night.”
“Room 3 is open. That’s thirty-three per night. Or you could stay in Room 4, fourty four per night.”
“What’s the difference?”
“They are two different rooms,” he said and began opening a case that held the keys.
“Well, I don’t suppose you have a Room 2 for twenty-two a night, do you?”
“I stay in Room 2,” the man said with a strange look on his face. Elle began to notice the tiny wrinkles around his eyes and the way they formed and disappeared as he spoke.
“Room 3 is fine then,” Elle said and handed him her card. As he completed the transaction, Elle looked around the lobby at the antique-looking furniture and ancient fireplace. “How long has this place been here?”
“The inn? A man named George Hinton built it in 1918. He originally used it as a house for his large family, but converted it into an inn when he needed the money. Here is your key. I will tell Hector to help you take your bag.”
The old man called for Hector and the front door opened with a slam. The man in the trench coat picked up Elle’s suitcase and led her up the spiral staircase to Room 3. The “3” on the door was missing the top screw, so the “3” looked like an “E”. Elle put the key in the door and tried to open it.
“Jiggle it,” Hector said. Impatient, he grabbed the key from her hand and shook the handle until the door popped open. “Aw, somebody left the TV on again.”
Hector flicked the light switch and located the remote on the bed. As he pointed the device at the television, he paused as if the program was of some interest to him. Elle set her purse on the bed and glanced at the screen. “It’s just static,” she said, but soon she was staring at the screen too. Something about the silver lines intrigued her. Suddenly, the screen went black. Elle rubbed her eyes as if she just woke up from a deep sleep.
Hector tossed the remote onto the bed. “Well, this is your room. The phone doesn’t work, but if you need anything, just call me. I’ll be outside,” Hector said.
“Thank you,” she said and watched him walk out of the room. The television sat on an antique cupboard. Elle tugged on the drawer handles, but they would not budge. The room had the same sickly lighting as the lobby, which made Elle dizzy. Too tired to change her clothes, she crawled into the rickety bed and pulled the drab, lumpy covers over her. Unless she was completely still, she felt as if she were waking up the other guests with the loud creeks of the bed frame.
Elle fell into a deep sleep. She dreamed that she went home, to her tiny apartment in Highland Park, and found that all of her belongings were gone. She met a woman named Martha who had moved in during the week Elle was away. Martha had decorated the home with silly signs and crocheted pictures of roosters. Elle couldn’t fight with the woman and ended up sleeping under a cold bridge.
At three am, the clock next to Elle began to beep. Who sets an alarm for three am? Elle slapped the top of the clock to shut off the noise. The television was on the same dead channel that was on when she and Hector first arrived in Room 3. Elle reached for the remote, but couldn’t find it under the covers. She thought she was turning the volume up with her feet because the white noise proceeded to get louder the harder she looked.
Finally, she stood up, switched on the light and found the remote on the floor near the glass doors to the balcony. She switched off the television and opened the glass door. The balcony was small, with a single rocking chair in the corner. She sat and looked out at the vast mountains. She could smell the smoke from Hector’s cigarette down below. Elle could her his muffled voice, but couldn’t locate the person he was talking to.
She leaned over the edge of the balcony and called down to Hector. “Hey. Who are you talking you?”
Hector simply continued with his conversation.
Elle decided that it was best for her to get some sleep before having to get her car towed in the morning and catch a cab back to her apartment. The wood underneath her feet creaked as she tiptoed toward the glass door. She tugged at the handle, pushing with all of her might, but the door wouldn’t budge. A deep breath was meant to give her strength, but during the time it took her to gain the energy, she saw a dark figure gliding around the bedroom. The figure sat down on the edge of the bed. The TV snapped on and filled the room with static.
Elle’s heart was racing. She could see the silhouette of a large man, but couldn’t make out his features. Elle tripped over the rocking chair’s leg and ended up sitting on the balcony trying to find her balance. Terrified, Elle tried to slowly get up.
The figure turned his head very slowly to stare at her.
Elle managed to grab the railing and lift herself up. She glanced back at the room before calling Hector.
The dark figure stood directly behind the glass door.
“Hector! Please help me,” Elle screamed.
Suddenly, the glass door blew open and the dark figure fell on top of her. He lifted her over the balcony. Elle couldn’t speak. It was like the life was being sucked out of her.
Hector burst through the door to Room 3, but it was too late. He walked to the open sliding glass door and looked down at the lawn. As he switched the TV off, he felt that someone was watching him. He walked slowly out of the room. Every night, he thought and locked the door to Room 3.
This is Part 1 of a Larger Series
- Part 2: The Hawthorne Inn: Shawn
Shawn was fed up. He placed the small envelope on the end table next to their queen-sized bed and grabbed a few things for the night. Toothbrush, deodorant, shirt, socks, pants. He shoved the items into the plastic bag that held their dinner earlier
- Part 3: The Hawthorne Inn: Hector
The manager of the Hawthorne Inn was a scrawny, delicate, old man who had become a master at keeping secrets. It was a beautiful day in Southern California; the mountains hadn’t been this visible since the last rainstorm in June. The manager just fin
- Part 4: The Hawthorne Inn: Riley
Riley hated flying. She had a terrible experience on a plane once. She was on her way home from her mother's funeral when the plane dropped ten feet without warning. Riley was glad it didn't happen on the way there, but swore she would never get on a
- Part 5: The Hawthorne Inn: Paul and Sally
Paul lived everyday like it was his last...