R is for Rihanna (and Rita) #AtoZChallenge #Rihanna #Rita #Rhubarb

Nah, only joking.  There’s no Rihanna.  But my most read posts recently have been the ones with a celeb in the title so I thought I’d give it another shot.  Instead, here’s a short story about Rita (and Arthur).

makedoandspend.wordpress.com

‘Seven down.  Arose from the sea foam or daughter of Zeus and Dione, what is she goddess of? Four letters. Last one!’

Arthur narrowed his eyes and tapped his fingernails on the rim of his saucer. ‘I know this one, it’s on the tip of my tongue.  Hmmm, what letters have we got?’

‘Well, if ‘on the contrary’ is right, then the second letter is O. That’s all I’ve got,’ said Rita, as she doodled a large rose on the corner of the newspaper.

She relaxed back into the sofa, adjusting the waistband of her trousers, which were digging into her stomach. Their Sunday afternoon ritual was set in stone. A full roast lunch, followed by tea, shortbread biscuits and the Mail on Sunday crossword.

‘I’ll pop upstairs and get that Brewer’s Fable book. Bound to be in there.’ Arthur pulled himself up from the sofa, his knees creaking as he did so. He gave Rita a wink as he walked towards the door. ‘I won’t tell if you don’t.’

They didn’t consider it cheating if they looked in books on their second attempt. And on the third go, they rang Mike from down the road. In all their years of doing it, they’d only twice been stuck after that.

Rita reached down and pulled at her trousers again. They were too tight and she felt sick. She shouldn’t have had that second helping of rhubarb crumble but she hadn’t been able to resist. She really did make a lovely crumble, if she said so herself. Every time she made it, she thought back to Mrs Gardener telling the class that, to make a light crumble, their palms should remain completely clean. ‘Fingertips only, girls, fingertips only.’ Good advice.

Rita’s breath caught in her throat. She wheezed, a tight pain squeezing her chest. ‘Arthur!’ she cried.

‘Hang on; you’ve put that box for the charity shop in front of the shelf. Ok, I’m coming.’

Arthur came into the living room, concentrating on the open book in his hand. ‘Aha, got it!’

He looked up to see Rita’s expectant face before he revealed the answer. But Rita’s face was blank, her eyes lifeless.

‘Oh, Rita.’ He sat on the sofa next to her and patted her still hand. He took the newspaper from her lap and picked up the pen from where it had fallen to the floor.

In the blank squares, he wrote the final letters. LOVE.

‘All done, Rita love, all done.’

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N is for 9 to 5 #AtoZChallenge

Photo © Jade M Wong

What the hell was that racket?  It sounded like a goddamn lion fighting a flock of eagles.  I looked at my phone: 5am.  My head pounded.  Last night’s leaving party had gotten messy, with tequila, karaoke and an ill-advised snog with Eddie from the mailroom.

Christ, the noise was that stupid dragon clock from Franklin, my boss.

‘I thought you liked Game of Thrones, Doralee?’

After working for the sexist, over-paid twat for twelve years, you’d think he’d know I was more into fan-fiction than fantasy.

But, now, my dreams had come true: the tide had turned, my ship had come in. A lottery win had enabled me to tell Franklin exactly where he could stick his job. I was done putting money in that man’s wallet.

The dragon squawked and beat its eerie green wings furiously. From its mouth came smoke and flames.  Where had Franklin even found something so bloody ridiculous?  I threw a book, walloping it on the head.

‘Shut up, you bastard, I’m retired,’ I shouted. ‘No more 9 to 5!’

The dragon shrieked, flew off the clock and landed on my chest. Its glowing red eyes held me spellbound.

‘I am your master now. You work for me. Forever.’

 

Bit of a mash-up today.  This is my post for the A to Z Challenge, but is also my entry for the Sunday Photo Fiction, which involves writing a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt above.  It’s also loosely based on the lyrics for the fabulous Dolly Parton classic, 9 to 5, and the characters from the film of the same name.

 Photo © Jade M Wong.

K is for Killer #AtoZChallenge

A short story for today’s A-Z Challenge, with a surprising murder suspect…hopefully, he’d find it funny!

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DI Haywood (NH): Case number 23,945: murder of Laura Kemp. Interview with Mrs Brenda Kitson. Present are Detective Inspector Nicholas Haywood and Police Constable Ian Jones. Interview commenced at 11.05pm. Now, in your own words, Mrs Kitson, could you tell us what you witnessed earlier this evening at the London Studios?

Brenda Kitson (BK): Is this recording? Do I need to speak into it…oh, I see, just like that. Well, Inspector, I’d gone along to attend a recording of the Graham Norton Show. I’ve always been a big fan, he’s so funny isn’t he?  He reminds me of that one in the 70s, let me think, what was his name, oh yes…Larry Grayson.  He was a card, always with the rude jokes.   And who could forget Mr Humphries? I’m free!

NH: Yes, thank you, Mrs Kitson. Could you just focus on what happened at the studios, please?

BK: Of course, Inspector. The show had finished and we – that’s me and Muriel Shaw – she’s my neighbour. We’ve been neighbours for over ten years now and we do ever such a lot together.   We do wine tasting on a Monday, the pub quiz on a Tuesday…

NH: MRS KITSON! What happened after the recording? PLEASE.

BK: Yes, I’m getting there, Inspector. Is there any chance of a nice cup of tea? All this talking is making my mouth terribly dry. Just milk, no sugar please.

NH: PC Jones has left the interview room.

BK: We were the last ones coming out of the studio because Muriel had put her bag under her chair; she didn’t realise it wasn’t zipped up. So when she picked it up to leave, everything had gone everywhere. We were ages trying to find her miniature bottle of Baileys; little bugger had rolled right to the end of the row. Anyway, as we walked out of the studio, we heard a dreadful shrieking coming from along the corridor. Like a banshee it was. Obviously, we thought we’d better see if anyone needed our help.

NH: Very commendable.

BK: We both did our St John Ambulance First Aid certificate last year. They offered it for free at the local community centre. Totally free! Don’t know why everyone didn’t take them up on it. But there were only eight of us there. That Mrs Peters from the pub was there. I wasn’t surprised; she’s so clumsy, always walking into doors and banging her head on cupboards.

NH: Yes, I’m aware of Mrs Peters. PC Jones has re-entered the interview room. Here you are, Mrs Kitson.

BK: Ooh, lovely – and a Garibaldi too. Thank you. Nothing like a nice cuppa to make all right with the world, is there, Inspector? I remember my poor Howard used to like his…

NH: Back to this evening, if you could, Mrs Kitson.

BK: Right, where was I? So, we heard the screaming and ran up the corridor to where it was coming from. That’s when we saw the woman’s body lying on the floor in one of the dressing rooms. And the killer was kneeling over her; knife in hand, blood dripping from the blade.   We yelled blue murder, as you can imagine, and he looked up at us. His evil eyes looked straight into my soul. Ooh, I feel all shaky just talking about it.

NH: It’s ok, Mrs Kitson. Take your time. Within reason, of course.

BK: We panicked a bit, to be honest. I went to run back to the studio and Muriel decided, in her wisdom, to run up the corridor, banging straight into me. And in the kerfuffle, I cracked my head on the wall and passed out. Thought I’d have to stay in hospital overnight but, oh no, the ambulance man said that wasn’t necessary, even with this bump the size of a French Fancy.  I was lucky that the killer didn’t butcher me too but Muriel threw herself on me – my back’s still suffering from that, I can tell you – and said he just ran from the room, still holding the knife.

NH: Could you describe the man you saw, Mrs Kitson?

BK: Well, I don’t need to describe him, Inspector. I can tell you who it was.

NH: You know the name of the killer?

BK: Of course.

NH: And?

BK: It was Peter Kay.

NH: Peter Kay?

BK: Yes, Peter Kay. Off the telly.

NH: You’re telling me that the killer of Laura Kemp was Peter Kay?  The comedian? Peter? Kay?

BK: I was as surprised as you, Inspector. But he was one of the guests on Graham Norton. And you never really know what people are truly like, do you? I thought you’d know that, being a policeman. Have you arrested him already?

NH: Mrs Kitson, is this the man you saw in the dressing room earlier this evening? The man you saw holding a knife above the dead body of Laura Kemp. For the benefit of the tape, I am holding up a picture of Michael Shaw.

BK: Ooh, he looks just like Peter Kay, doesn’t he? Oh.

NH: This is Michael Shaw, the ex-husband of Laura Kemp.

BK: Um, well, now I look at the photo, then, um, yes, that was the man I saw at the studios.   Holding the knife.  Over that poor woman.

NH: And Peter Kay?

BK: Had nothing to do with the killing. Oh dear, how embarrassing.

NH: Thank you, Mrs Kitson, you’re free to leave.

 

 

 

G is for Grasping at Straws…

Ok, things are a bit busy today and, as I wasn’t organised enough to have a whole month’s worth of posts written in advance, today’s A-Z Challenge is an incredibly bad story I wrote for my Creative Writing course a few years ago.  I seem to remember that I hadn’t done any preparation for the class (sounds familiar…) and knocked this out in my lunch-hour at work.  I will pull my finger out soon!

Come Die with Me

Angela had slight misgivings as Google Maps directed her into Dead Man’s Lane.   Her misgivings grew into major concerns as she got out of the car and looked up at her destination.

Number 13 was a large Victorian villa, in a sad state of disrepair.  Ivy clung to the front of the house, obscuring the grimy windows.   A cracked path led to the house, the slabs raised up in all directions and weeds grew out of the cracks.  The black front door had a large brass knocker in the shape of a coiled snake.  The house stood in darkness; the ghostly light from the pale moon highlighted the neglect and decay.

Angela checked the address.  Yes, this was the right house but somehow it didn’t seem to fit with the advertisement pinned up in the local deli that she’d answered:

Food, fun and thrill lovers wanted for local Come Dine with Me experience.  Recreate the excitement of the TV show with like-minded people.  Email Dea at dea@thetombshop.com for further details. 

Call her prematurely judgmental but the house didn’t look as if it would offer too much in the way of fun or excitement.   Angela straightened the cloak of her vampire costume and wondered if it looked slightly ridiculous.  She’d been so pleased with it earlier, twirling about and making scary faces in mirror.  Dea hadn’t specified fancy dress; Angela had just assumed they’d all make an effort but what if no-one else had dressed up?

A car pulled up and a plump, blonde lady wearing a black jumpsuit and (phew!) cat’s ears got out of the car.  She held a sheet of paper in her hand and looked up at the house with an anxious expression on her face.  Angela was sure her own face mirrored that expression.

“Hi,” said Angela.  “Are you here for Come Dine with Me?”

“Yes, is this the right place?  It looks deserted.”

“Well it’s definitely the right night, couldn’t really forget it when it was on Halloween.  I’m glad you’ve dressed up too!  I’m Angela.”

“Oh, hi.  I’m Debbie.  Have you done anything like this before?”

“Nope, first time.  Hopefully not the last.”

The gate hung precariously from the hinges and creaked loudly as Angela tentatively pushed it open.   She and Debbie made their way up the crooked path.   Brushing cobwebs out of her way, Angela picked up the heavy knocker and released it.  The resulting boom echoed through the house.

“Is it just me or is this like an episode of Scooby Doo?” asked Angela, as silence descended on them.

The door abruptly opened, making them both jump.

A tall, thin lady with pale skin and long dark hair stood in the doorway. She was wearing a long black dress with wide sleeves and held a scythe.   “Come in.  Come in.  I’m Dea.  Welcome to my home.”

“Thanks for having us; something smells good,” said Angela.    Actually, this was stretching the truth a bit as the odour that engulfed them was more of a stench than a smell.

The inside of the house wasn’t much of an improvement over the exterior.  Faded wallpaper hung from the walls, cobwebs decorated the corners.   Dea showed them into a dark dining room where tall candles in a large candelabra on the table offered the only light.

A man in his early 50s sat at the table.  His face was painted white and he was wearing a ripped t-shirt, covered with what looked like blood.

“Hello, I’m Geoffrey,” he said, getting up from the table to shake hands.  “This is fun isn’t it?  I’m glad we all dressed up.”

“Dressed up for what?” asked Dea.

“Halloween!” said Debbie.  “I love your outfit.”

Dea gave Debbie a mystified look.  “Help yourselves to wine.  I’ll bring in the starter.  It’s salmon mousse.”

Unfortunately, the stench Angela had smelt as she entered the house was the salmon mousse.  She managed to force down a couple of mouthfuls, trying not to breathe as she swallowed.  A wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm her.  Debbie and Geoffrey seemed to be enjoying it as much as her.

“I don’t feel well,” said Debbie, in a small voice, “I feel weird, a bit dizzy”.

“Really?” asked Dea.  “Anyone else?”

“Actually, I’m not feeling too great,” said Geoffrey, before emitting a strange moan and falling forward onto the table.    Debbie started to scream, the noise catching in her throat as she collapsed in her chair.

“Oh dear,” said Dea, rubbing her hands together in a ridiculously evil manner.  “Looks like it was the salmon mousse.*  You’re going to die.  What a great success for my Come Die with Me evening.”

Angela just had time to say, “You’re only getting 1/10 from me,” before everything went black and her Halloween was over.

*Apologies to Monty Python.  And Come Dine with Me.  And to literature in general…

A is for April Skies

As a lapsed blogger, I’m hoping that the A-Z Challenge (26 blog posts over one month with Sundays off for good behaviour) will be the kick up the backside I need to get me blogging again.   It’ll either rekindle my love of blogging or you’ll never hear from me again 😉

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite organised enough to have a blog post ready for A, so I’ve cheated slightly (mmm, day one and I’m cheating already, that’s not a good start…) and changed the protagonist’s name from June to April in this story I wrote for the Reader’s Digest 100 Word Competition. Which I didn’t win (bastards, what’d they know??) but I still really like the concept.

This story isn’t like me at all as I mainly go for comedy, Young Adult or mystery stories, but it’s fun to play around with different genres when the stories are this short!

April Skies
‘Sorry I haven’t done your hair lately, Mum,’ said April, combing the silvery curls. ‘The salon’s so busy and what with the new extension and the kids’ activities, there aren’t enough hours in the day.’

April sighed: she had no excuses really.

‘I’ll do this front bit with the hot brush; I know you hate it sticking up.’ April brushed Mum’s hair until it shone like a halo. ‘There, all done.’

Dad came to the bedroom door. ‘It’s time to go.’

‘She looks beautiful, doesn’t she?’ said April, planting a gentle kiss on Mum’s cheek. ‘Tell the undertaker she’s ready.’

Living it up at the Hotel California

So sad to hear that the wonderful Glenn Frey, who co-wrote some of the Eagle’s greatest hits such as Take It Easy, Desperado and the amazing Hotel California, has passed away.   Hotel California brings back lots of great memories for me.  Not from when it was originally released (I’m not that old!) but for some reason it was hugely popular in my late teens/early twenties.   Anyway, in tribute to Glenn, here is a story I wrote a few years ago (yes, and posted last year.  New content to come soon, honestly!):

California postcardCheck Out

“FUUUCCCKKKK”! The car swerved across the highway as Henley fought against the steering wheel to bring the Chevy under control. He narrowly missed the truck coming the other way, its horn blasting through the silence of the desert. Henley rammed his foot hard on the brake and the car skidded to a halt on the gravel verge. His heart pounded and he struggled to catch his breath as he unpeeled his shaking fingers from the steering wheel. He opened the window and let the cool wind freshen his burning face.

Henley had been driving since 8am, after a disappointing breakfast in a diner that was nothing like the cool, hip ‘50s diners of the movies. This one was unwelcoming, served bitter coffee (but free refills..) and cooked hash browns he could have built a house with. It hadn’t set him up well for the 400-mile drive to his next destination: Barstow, a small town on the edge of the desert, to pay homage to the great Hunter S. Thompson.

His journey had taken even longer after several hasty unscheduled stops to empty himself of his crappy breakfast, crouched nervously behind scantily thorned bushes or the occasional sign, hoping a rattlesnake didn’t attack him while he was incapacitated.

The motel the previous night hadn’t provided much sleep, thanks to a retro vibrating mattress that shuddered at random points throughout the night, usually just after he’d finally dropped off from the previous quake. This lack of sleep, combined with the violent bouts of diarrhoea, had exhausted him and he had only feebly resisted as his eyes had grown heavy, hypnotised by the road stretching for miles in front of him and the lights of the cars driving towards him.   He’d descended into the deep cavern of sleep, until the blare of the truck’s horn had violently yanked him back into consciousness.

Driving from New York to LA was a lifetime’s ambition for Henley. He wanted to see the real good ol’ US of A, get his kicks on Route 66, taste mom’s apple pie. Live the American dream. The reality, however, was turning out to be slightly different.   Any kitsch places that he was lucky enough to stumble across had seemed staged as if they were just cashing in on an old legend that had barely existed in the first place. Also, he hadn’t realised just how great the distances were and how dull much of the scenery would be. Ok, so the Grand Canyon was impressive and it was cool to see Las Vegas all lit up and imagine himself in Ocean’s Eleven, but there had also been a hell of lot of long hours’ solid driving in between those scenic bits. Long hours. On his own. With only an iPod full of classic rock to keep him company. He still had another 90 miles to go to Barstow and darkness had fallen suddenly.

It was time to stop for the night.

Henley slowly pulled back onto the highway.   He needed to find somewhere to stay; surely there must be a place soon. He kept the windows open, the warm smell of wild sage rising up through the air.    He had been driving for ten minutes or so when up ahead in the distance, he saw the shimmering light of a neon HOTEL sign. He drove into the almost empty parking lot and stopped next to an old white Mercedes parked in front of the reception.

The hotel was an incongruous sight to find in the middle of the Californian desert. A huge, three story building, it had a brooding, black facade, pointed arches and four tall towers reaching to the sky.   Gargoyles leered down at him, their hideous faces mocking him. What was it with Americans and their theme hotels? In Vegas he’d stayed in an Egyptian one with mummies and a small pyramid in his room.

Whatever. All he wanted was to go to sleep, no matter what the hotel looked like. The reception was in darkness, the door locked.   He tugged on the old-fashioned bell pull, its chimes ringing out in the cool night.   No-one answered, he rang again. Oh for fuck’s sake, he’d have to keep driving.

He moved away, heading back to the car. “Welcome,” came a voice behind him. “Are you looking for a room?”

No, I’m here for architecture tips, thought Henley as he turned back to the door. A tall, slim woman with long blonde hair stood in the doorway, holding up a candle in a Tiffany-style glass candlestick. She wore a full length, flowing dress.

“Yes, are you open?”

“We’ve had a power cut, there’s no electricity. We haven’t had power for ages. God knows when it’ll be back on.”

“I just need a bed, something to eat and drink.”

“You can find that here, every season of the year. It’s $60 for the night.”

Henley hesitated – was this a good idea or was it just too weird? – before exhaustion won out and he followed her into the dark building, through a maze of corridors and stairs, the light from the candle briefly lighting myriad doorways and passages leading god knows where.   He could hear the faint sound of music mingled with laughter and the occasional excited shout calling from far away.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

4735b2827883929db8dce89db914eb93“Oh, that’s just some friends. They like to dance in the courtyard. Do you dance? It’s very therapeutic. Helps you remember, helps you forget.”

Christ, she didn’t only look like an old hippy, she spoke like one too.

The woman showed him into his room: a huge black cast iron bed stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by lit church candles in tall candlesticks. A bottle of pink champagne cooled in an ice bucket on the bedside table and beads of condensation twinkled in the candlelight.

“Ummm, is this the right room? Looks like someone’s already in here.”

“No, no. This is for you. We like to make all our guests feel welcome.”

Welcome? More like a health and safety nightmare.

“Oh, well, thank you. I don’t really drink champagne, more of a Budweiser man myself.”

“We don’t stock beer. No call for it. Haven’t done beer since ’69. I’ll leave you to get comfortable. I’ll be in the bar if you want to come down.”

She left and Henley lay on the bed with relief. He yawned loudly and gave a large, exaggerated stretch feeling some of the tension in his back dissipating. As he looked up, he realised he was staring at himself in a large, smoked mirror on the ceiling. He sat up with a jolt, suddenly wide awake. Maybe he should go for that drink after all.   It might help him sleep then he’d head off first thing in the morning.

Henley picked up one of the candles and blew out the others.   No point letting the place burn down, even if the owner was one can short of a six-pack.   His route back to reception was complicated by the darkness and the vast number of corridors and staircases. He didn’t pass any other guests but he could still hear the shouts and music from the party.   He tried to head towards the sound and eventually found himself outside a room on the ground floor, from where he could hear the music blaring. He opened the door and entered the room with the candle held high.

Henley froze, staring at the scene in front of him. His brain told him to turn and run as fast as he could but his legs were unable to obey the instruction.

A huge reptilian creature, at least twelve feet long, covered in red scales lay on a table in the middle of the room.   It was encircled by figures dressed in white, flowing robes, screaming and frenziedly stabbing at the beast with steel daggers, their blades plunging into the creature’s body as blood splattered through the air. Their robes were patterned with the bright crimson of fresh blood and their faces dripped with sweat.

The monster’s white fangs glinted in the candlelight as it snarled and shrieked. It thrashed its head from side to side and attempted to lash out with its long talons and whip like tail but it was spread-eagled across the table; thick rope around its legs and tail held it tightly anchored to the table legs. Its stomach and chest were swimming in blood and its guts were visible through the slashes and wounds.

The beast lifted its head off the table and stared at Henley with its glittering black eyes. Henley desperately wanted to look away but the monster’s glare held him transfixed.   Although he could feel the pure evil emitting from the monster, he felt that the beast was pleading with Henley to help him. Surely nothing deserved to die like this?

At that moment one of the attackers caught sight of him standing in the doorway. “Friends, behold. We have fresh blood!”

Henley’s body finally caught up with his brain and he leapt back though the doorway, slamming it shut behind him. What the fuck had he stumbled into?   He began to run towards where he hoped the reception and the hell out of here were but the candle’s flame went out and he threw the candlestick to the ground. He put his shaking hand against the wall and groped his way along the corridor, trying to block out the horrific images of what he had just witnessed.

Henley progressed slowly in the darkness, trying to quell the panic he felt in every inch of his body. Behind him was the sound of hushed voices getting closer and closer.   He thought he could see a faint light emitting from the end of the corridor. Oh Jesus, please let it be the way out. He turned the corner, into the reception area where more candles were placed on the desk.   A sob of relief caught in his throat and he sped up towards the door. He pulled down on the handle and pushed against the door but it refused to open.   He frantically rattled the handle up and down, throwing his shoulder against the door.

He screamed and jumped in the air as he felt a hand on his shoulder.   Tears flooded down his face and the air disappeared from his lungs as he sank to the ground, his hand still clinging to the door handle.   He finally lifted his head to see what fresh hell would face him now.

A short, tanned man with cropped hair and friendly eyes, dressed in a porter’s uniform, looked down at Henley and smiled.

“Help me, please help me,” Henley begged.

“Relax,” the man said in a deep, reassuring tone, “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.”

Check Out

Another short story this week, in lieu of a report from Rome…

“FUUUCCCKKKK”!

The car swerved across the highway as Henley fought against the steering wheel to bring the Chevy under control. He narrowly missed the truck coming the other way, its horn blasting through the silence of the desert. Henley rammed his foot hard on the brake and the car skidded to a halt on the gravel verge. His heart pounded and he struggled to catch his breath as he unpeeled his shaking fingers from the steering wheel. He opened the window and let the cool wind freshen his burning face.

Henley had been driving since 8am, after a disappointing breakfast in a diner that was nothing like the cool, hip ‘50s diners of the movies. This one was unwelcoming, served bitter coffee (but free refills..) and cooked hash browns he could have built a house with. It hadn’t set him up well for the 400-mile drive to his next destination: Barstow, a small town on the edge of the desert, to pay homage to the great Hunter S. Thompson.

His journey had taken even longer after several hasty unscheduled stops to empty himself of his crappy breakfast, crouched nervously behind scantily thorned bushes or the occasional sign, hoping a rattlesnake didn’t attack him while he was incapacitated.

The motel the previous night hadn’t provided much sleep, thanks to a retro vibrating mattress that shuddered at random points throughout the night, usually just after he’d finally dropped off from the previous quake. This lack of sleep, combined with the violent bouts of diarrhoea, had exhausted him and he had only feebly resisted as his eyes had grown heavy, hypnotised by the road stretching for miles in front of him and the lights of the cars driving towards him.   He’d descended into the deep cavern of sleep, until the blare of the truck’s horn had violently yanked him back into consciousness.California postcard

Driving from New York to LA was a lifetime’s ambition for Henley. He wanted to see the real good ol’ US of A, get his kicks on Route 66, taste mom’s apple pie. Live the American dream. The reality, however, was turning out to be slightly different.   Any kitsch places that he was lucky enough to stumble across had seemed staged as if they were just cashing in on an old legend that had barely existed in the first place. Also, he hadn’t realised just how great the distances were and how dull much of the scenery would be. Ok, so the Grand Canyon was impressive and it was cool to see Las Vegas all lit up and imagine himself in Ocean’s Eleven, but there had also been a hell of lot of long hours’ solid driving in between those scenic bits. Long hours. On his own. With only an iPod full of classic rock to keep him company. He still had another 90 miles to go to Barstow and darkness had fallen suddenly.

It was time to stop for the night.

Henley slowly pulled back onto the highway.   He needed to find somewhere to stay; surely there must be a place soon. He kept the windows open, the warm smell of wild sage rising up through the air.    He had been driving for ten minutes or so when up ahead in the distance, he saw the shimmering light of a neon HOTEL sign. He drove into the almost empty parking lot and stopped next to an old white Mercedes parked in front of the reception.

The hotel was an incongruous sight to find in the middle of the Californian desert. A huge, three story building, it had a brooding, black facade, pointed arches and four tall towers reaching to the sky.   Gargoyles leered down at him, their hideous faces mocking him. What was it with Americans and their theme hotels? In Vegas he’d stayed in an Egyptian one with mummies and a small pyramid in his room.

Whatever. All he wanted was to go to sleep, no matter what the hotel looked like. The reception was in darkness, the door locked.   He tugged on the old-fashioned bell pull, its chimes ringing out in the cool night.   No-one answered, he rang again. Oh for god’s sake, he’d have to keep driving.

He moved away, heading back to the car. “Welcome,” came a voice behind him. “Are you looking for a room?”

No, I’m here for architecture tips, thought Henley as he turned back to the door. A tall, slim woman with long blonde hair stood in the doorway, holding up a candle in a Tiffany-style glass candlestick. She wore a full length, flowing dress.

“Yes, are you open?”

“We’ve had a power cut, there’s no electricity. We haven’t had power for ages. God knows when it’ll be back on.”

“I just need a bed, something to eat and drink.”

“You can always find that here. It’s $60 for the night.”

Henley hesitated – was this a good idea or was did it look too weird? – before exhaustion won out and he followed her into the dark building, through a maze of corridors and stairs, the light from the candle briefly lighting myriad doorways and passages leading god knows where.   He could hear the faint sound of music mingled with laughter and the occasional excited shout calling from far away.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

“Oh, that’s just some friends. They like to dance in the courtyard. Do you dance? It’s very therapeutic. Helps you remember, helps you forget.”

Christ, she didn’t only look like an old hippy, she spoke like one too.

The woman showed him into his room: a huge black cast iron bed stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by lit church candles in tall candlesticks. A bottle of pink champagne cooled in an ice bucket on the bedside table and beads of condensation twinkled in the candlelight.

“Ummm, is this the right room? Looks like someone’s already in here.”

“No, no. This is for you. We like to make all our guests feel welcome.”

Welcome? More like a health and safety nightmare.

“Oh, well, thank you. I don’t really drink champagne though, more of a Budweiser man myself.”

“We don’t stock beer. No call for it. Haven’t done beer since ’69. I’ll leave you to get comfortable. I’ll be in the bar if you want to come down.”

She left and Henley lay on the bed with relief. He yawned loudly and gave a large, exaggerated stretch feeling some of the tension in his back dissipating. As he looked up, he realised he was staring at himself in a large, smoked mirror on the ceiling. He sat up with a jolt, suddenly wide awake. Maybe he should go for that drink after all.   It might help him sleep then he’d head off first thing in the morning.

Henley picked up one of the candles and blew out the others.   No point letting the place burn down, even if the owner was one can short of a six-pack.   His route back to reception was complicated by the darkness and the vast number of corridors and staircases. He didn’t pass any other guests but he could still hear the shouts and music from the party.   He tried to head towards the sound and eventually found himself outside a room on the ground floor, from where he could hear the music blaring. He opened the door and entered the room with the candle held high.

Henley froze, staring at the scene in front of him. His brain told him to turn and run as fast as he could but his legs were unable to obey the instruction.

A huge reptilian creature, at least twelve feet long, covered in red scales lay on a table in the middle of the room.   It was encircled by figures dressed in white, flowing robes, screaming and frenziedly stabbing at the beast with steel daggers, their blades plunging into the creature’s body as blood splattered through the air. Their robes were patterned with the bright crimson of fresh blood and their faces dripped with sweat.

The monster’s white fangs glinted in the candlelight as it snarled and shrieked. It thrashed its head from side to side and attempted to lash out with its long talons and whip like tail but it was spread-eagled across the table; thick rope around its legs and tail held it tightly anchored to the table legs. Its stomach and chest were swimming in blood and its guts were visible through the slashes and wounds.

The beast lifted its head off the table and stared at Henley with its glittering black eyes. Henley desperately wanted to look away but the monster’s glare held him transfixed.   Although he could feel the pure evil emitting from the monster, he felt that the beast was pleading with Henley to help him. Surely nothing deserved to die like this?

At that moment one of the figures in white caught sight of him standing in the doorway. “Friends, behold. We have fresh blood!”

Henley’s body finally caught up with his brain and he leapt back though the doorway, slamming it shut behind him. What the fuck had he stumbled into?   He began to run towards where he hoped the reception and the hell out of here were but the candle’s flame went out and he threw the candlestick to the ground. He put his shaking hand against the wall and groped his way along the corridor, trying to block out the horrific images of what he had just witnessed.

Henley progressed slowly in the darkness, trying to quell the panic he felt in every inch of his body. Behind him was the sound of hushed voices getting closer and closer.   He thought he could see a faint light emitting from the end of the corridor.  Oh Jesus, please let it be the way out. He turned the corner into the reception area, where more candles were placed on the desk.   A sob of relief caught in his throat and he sped up towards the door. He pulled down on the handle and pushed against the door but it refused to open.   He frantically rattled the handle up and down, throwing his shoulder against the door.

He screamed as he felt a hand on his shoulder.   Tears flooded down his face and the air disappeared from his lungs as he sank to the ground, his hand still clinging to the door handle.   He finally lifted his head to see what fresh hell would face him now.

A short, tanned man, dressed in a porter’s uniform, looked down at Henley and smiled.

“Help me, please help me,” Henley begged.

“Relax,” the man said in a deep, reassuring tone, “you can check out any time you like.  But you can never leave.”

The classic rock fans amongst you will find this easy: can you Name That Tune??  No prizes for the first correct answer but you can feel smug all weekend.