Clare coughed as her touch stirred up decades of dust, the precious book disintegrating beneath her fingertips. Not decades, she thought, centuries. She felt a tightening in her chest as she imagined the poor author whose tales would now never be read. It must have been a beautiful story. After all, the title was The Shining. Clare vowed to look it up on the Database–when her life settled down and she wasn’t on the run, that is. It must have been an important book to whomever once stayed in this rundown hotel room; before she destroyed it, The Shining had shown quite a bit of wear, the kind of wear that a book spine only achieves through countless openings and hours upon hours of page turning.
The room was of an older style, all straight lines and sharp corners. It had probably been called “modern” in its day. Nowadays, with nature being a commodity that dwindled at a rapidfire pace, most people brought the little nature that remained indoors, hoping to protect it from the ravages of time and warfare that decimated the landscape. The shapes of furniture, decor, and even the walls themselves often were more organic than the things left to die outside.
Clare could feel an unease about the room. Something had happened here, something so traumatic that the emotions fueled by the event still lingered. She caught wisps of memories as they drifted through the air, dancing with the dust motes left by the murdered book. A child playing. A mother crying. And, even more disturbing, peals of mad laughter. The madness touched Clare’s mind and she closed it off, fearful of what might happen if she let the oil-slick insanity ooze into her consciousness.
A strong yet smooth hand grabbed her dusty one and tugged. Clare jumped, startled, until she remembered: Eli. He had gone off in search of the proprietor of this hotel, or at least the squatter in charge. Clare had forgotten all about him as she meandered through the rooms, grateful that they lost the Squad that had been hot on their heels.
“C’mon,” he said, his tone gruff and commanding, the worry on his face belying his true concern. “I found Lookout. He’s gonna let us stay here for a few days, but not in this room.”
“What’s so special about this room?” Clare asked, her interest piqued.
A shadow passed over Eli’s face, though the lights never shifted, and the hand that held hers pulled harder. “Nothing. It’s just a room. We just … can’t stay here.”
Clare followed Eli out of the room with a reluctance that was as palpable to her as his lie had been. It wasn’t “nothing” that was interrupting her explorations.
Eli had one of those blasted Psy-blocks though, so Clare was left to try to guess at what had gone on in that room all those years ago. The memories held by that room were fearful, yes, but also intriguing. She wanted to know more. As they exited, Clare glanced at the number on the door. It almost made her giggle.
Room 1313. Many hotel contractors from this era were still superstitious enough to skip any occurrences of the number thirteen, let alone a double-whammy like this one.
“How the hell did you get way up here so fast?” Eli’s voice cut through her musings, and she craned her neck to look up at him.
“I dunno,” she said. “I was just looking around.”
He grunted and put an arm around her shoulders, guiding her away from the cursed room with a little too much force for her liking. Eli was an Athlete, and it was Clare’s experience that sometimes Athletes forgot their own strength. His grip on her shoulder was vicelike, almost enough to bruise. She’d have to talk with him about that.
Leaning against the wall by the stairwell was a man Clare assumed to be Lookout. The man was taller than Clare, as was nearly every grown man–or teenaged boy, for that matter–but nowhere near as tall as Eli, with a bald head and mocha-colored skin. It was hard to tell, but Clare guessed that he was naturally black. People like Clare and Eli, who didn’t have access to the finer things in life, couldn’t choose their skin tone. Being the proprietor of an abandoned hotel in a Dead City generally didn’t give one access to the finer things in life.
Lookout had a blank expression on his mangled face, and Clare knew that he was Abnormal like she and Eli. From his name, she’d guess that he was a Hawkeye. The damage to his visage suggested the same.
Some Abnormals–Abnormals who were caught by the government Squads–had the misfortune of being sent to the camps. Clare had seen horror stories of the camps, broadcast like old-time satellite TV directly into her cerebrum when a survivor was near. Lookout wasn’t broadcasting (probably another black market Psy-block like Eli’s) but the degree of brutality that had ruined this once-handsome man’s face was rarely seen outside the camps.
Clare feared the camps more than she feared whatever had happened in Room 1313.
Scratching at the scar that ran from forehead to jawbone, Lookout stood up straight and glared with his remaining eye. Clare didn’t need to be a Telepath to know that he was pissed.
“The fuck is she doing running around upstairs?” he asked Eli. “I thought you said you told her to stay downstairs.”
“I did,” Eli deadpanned. “You try keeping this chick in line.”
Clare jerked out of Eli’s grip and stood back on one leg, her arms crossed over her chest. She straightened her spine and raised her chin, trying to make herself seem imposing, but with her short stature and tiny frame she doubted she struck any fear into the two men. “I’m a grown woman. I can go wherever I want.”
Lookout rolled his good eye and turned back to Eli. “She may be too stupid to know this, but you certainly know damn good and well to keep her away from that room.”
If there was one thing Clare hated, it was being dismissed. She stomped forward, her bootheels thumping on the threadbare carpet, and stood in front of Lookout. Poking a slim finger into his chest, she did her best to return the Hawkeye’s glare with one of her own. “I wouldn’t call me stupid if I were you; I’ve killed men for less.”
Lookout raised his eyebrow. “No you haven’t.”
The edges of Clare’s vision turned red. She felt something pulling at her from behind–from the direction of Room 1313. It was a rage so strong it nearly toppled her over, and she took a step back to stabilize herself. One of the things left behind in that room had sensed her ire, and it locked on to her like a tracking round. What surprised Clare more than anything was the source of the anger. It wasn’t the grieving mother. It wasn’t the laughing madman.
It was the child.
How could a child hold that much rage? Its memory had been cheerful when she was in the room, happily at play. Her neck swiveled almost of its own accord, turning back to face the forbidden room.
Lookout’s voice came to her through a thick fog of memories. In the distance, she felt him try to grab her arms, try to hold her back. She felt Eli’s familiar hands on her waist, fighting the gravitational pull that the dead child had on her. Her physical sensations were dulled though, drowned out by the emotions emanating from Room 1313.
Clare had never felt such strong emotions, not even in her own mind. Had this child been a Telepath in life? Based on the age of the hotel, it would have been at the dawn of the Abnormals, when science had not caught up with nature to identify them for what they were. Most early Abnormals were weak in comparison to today’s evolved versions. If the child had been an Abnormal, it would have been quite powerful … had it had the chance to grow to adulthood.
Before she knew it, Clare was staring up again at the numbers 1313 etched into the chipped plastic plate on the door. Both Eli and Lookout were still latched on to her, their desperation seeping through their Psy-blocks, but Clare was lost to the past. This child was furious, offended by the dismissal it felt in a kindred spirit, so to speak. The child had been dismissed as well, and it did not like the feeling in the slightest.
The child had been dismissed before. By other children. By its grieving mother. By the laughing madman.
The madman was the final straw.
Clare watched the scene unfold in Room 1313, unaware that she had even opened the door. The light wasn’t on, but that didn’t matter. She was seeing a time in which the light had been on, a time in which the little Telepath had gone from playful imp to psychotic demon.
The child–Clare could see now that it was a little girl who looked to be about six or seven–hopped and skipped around the small hotel room, her fine brown hair bouncing and trailing behind her. Her mother and father, however, were not enjoying the trip as much as the girl was. The girl’s mother had tears streaming down her face while the father poked her in the sternum and laughed. It wasn’t the same joyful laugh that the little girl emitted as she scampered around them; it was an evil laugh, a merciless laugh. Clare saw no bruises on either mother or child, yet she got the distinct impression that one or both of them had been abused repeatedly by the father.
The actors in the play she watched were long since dead, but through the eyes of the child they were all very much alive. At first.
Then Clare saw why Lookout didn’t want a Telepath anywhere near Room 1313.
After tugging on each parent’s shirt and begging for them to play with her, the playful child grew frustrated. Frustrated and enraged.
“Play with me!” Clare heard on the soundtrack inside her mind. “Play with me!”
The mother continued crying. The father continued laughing. The little girl frowned and stomped her little foot. She dropped the toy she had been holding and gave her mother a hard shove, harder than a girl her size should have been able to give.
The mother fell, her head arching towards the corner of the bedside table. Clare tried to reach out a hand to catch her, but her arms were bound in the real world by Lookout and Eli, who were still entangled in their attempt to keep her from advancing.
Unable to stop what had already happened, Clare watched in horror as the mother’s head collided with the sharp corner. A section of scalp peeled back and a crack echoed in the past. The father, who Clare now recognized as being drunk, laughed even harder.
The mother’s still-breathing body twitched and writhed on the floor, blood spurting from the massive head wound. She tried to gain her footing, to push herself up, but she kept slipping in a growing pool of her own blood. While it sickened Clare, it sent the father into fits of hysterical laughter. After several stomach-churning moments, the mother finally stopped struggling, her gasps now quiet, her body still. The girl smiled up at her father, believing for a moment that she had finally gotten her mother out of the way enough that they could play together.
He didn’t want to play, though. When she reached for his shirttail again, he pushed her aside and stumbled to the small desk across the tiny room, where a near-empty bottle of amber liquid awaited him. The little girl’s hands clenched into fists at her sides, and she screamed with a volume that only angry little girls can achieve.
“Play with me!”
Daddy took a swig from his bottle and snorted. “Fuck off, brat.”
“No …” Clare’s voice was barely audible. “Don’t say that to her. Don’t.”
He set the bottle back down, a terrible mistake. The girl may have been small, but she was more than tall enough to reach the desktop. She snatched the bottle from the desk and glared at her father.
“Play. With. Me.”
“Give that back you little cunt!” He bent over to try to grab the bottle from her, but she held it behind her back, just out of reach.
In his stupor, he lost his balance and fell to the carpet at the girl’s feet. She raised the bottle high and brought it down on his head. The past echoed with another crack as his skull fractured from the impact and the weight of the glass bottle. His body jerked in response, and the little girl giggled. It was a tiny, high-pitched version of the father’s own laugh, and in the back of her own mind Clare wondered if the two weren’t afflicted with some inherited mental illness.
Not that it mattered. They were long dead–the father a little longer dead, but dead they were.
Who killed the little girl? Clare thought. She knew from the memories and emotions swirling around Room 1313 that the girl had died there, but the scene had yet to play out.
No one came to check on the little girl. Once she grew bored with turning her father’s head into Play-Doh, the girl sat on the bed and pouted. It was a disturbing sight, this beautiful little girl covered in blood and bone, angry at the world for not giving her a playmate.
Days passed. The girl grew hungry, and because she couldn’t reach the chain on the door she couldn’t leave the room to find food. Tears streamed from Clare’s eyes as she watched the little girl try to eat the only food available to her. Uncooked flesh is tough, though, and she couldn’t get her tiny teeth through it.
Clare’s body wracked with sobs as she watched the girl die of starvation after more than a week with nothing but congealed blood to sustain her. As the girl drew her last breath, more than a hundred years in the past, Clare’s mind was released.
Clare, Eli, and Lookout all fell back into the hallway. No longer held captive by the little girl’s memories, Clare’s body was free of the supernatural force that held it, and the physical forces of Eli and Lookout pulling her away from the room slammed them all into a pile on the floor. Lookout was the first to untangle himself from the mass of limbs, and he shot up to slam the door to Room 1313 shut.
“Goddamnit, Eli. I told you.” He spat on the door and turned to walk back towards the stairwell. “You’re dealing with her fucking nightmares tonight. Her screams had better not wake me up.”