By Maggie K
The girl skipped down the hallway, pink balloon in hand.
“Mama!” She called. “Mama, where are you?”
There was no response. The girl turned, heading down another identical hallway filled with dark brown hotel doors. The red carpet underneath her feet stretched forward, tiny gold patterns filling the edges. So they were playing hide-and-seek, the girl thought.
“I’m going to find you, Mama!” She called.
The girl turned again, stopping in front of the looming silver elevator doors. She pressed the down button, happily whistling as she waited. Ding! The doors opened. The girl got in and pressed the button for the lobby.
“Going down?” An unfamiliar voice rasped. The girl turned around in surprise. She hadn’t noticed anyone else when she had gotten on.
“Where did you come from?” She asked, studying the man. He was wearing a long black coat and hat, so she couldn’t see his face.
“What do you mean?” He said. “I was always here.” The elevator slowed to a stop, and the girl skipped out, still holding her balloon.
“Will I see you later?” She asked curiously, stopping just outside the doors and looking back. But there was no one in the elevator. The girl shrugged, walking towards the lobby. There were more important things to worry about than a disappearing man. She needed to find Mama. The lobby was deserted, the doors long since locked. She couldn’t see outside, the night’s darkness blocking any view there might have been. It was dim here, with only a few flickering lights. The desks were empty, and the girl started to grow scared. She didn’t like the dark, and thought longingly of the comfortable bed waiting upstairs.
“Mama?” She called again. “You need to come upstairs, it’s time to tuck me into bed and sing the birthday song!” Again, no response. The girl checked behind the desks, under the couches and chairs in the common room, even in the fireplace. There was no sign of Mama, hadn’t been any sign of her since lunch. “I give up!” She called, waiting for Mama to come crawling out of her hiding space, yelling surprise! No one showed. “Maybe she’s on a different floor,” the girl mused to herself. She got back in the elevator and pressed the button leading to the basement. That was the only other place she could think of Mama being. The girl hated the basement, so it would be the perfect place for Mama to hide. The elevator doors slid open again with a creak.
“Mama,” the girl yelled. “Mama! Are you down here?” She cautiously ventured forward. The basement was pitch black, and the girl couldn’t even see the trash cans she knew were in the corner. She stepped carefully, as the ground was uneven.
“Your Mama isn’t down here,” someone said.
“Hello? Who’s there?” The girl asked. She shivered as a breeze blew through the room. She could faintly see a black shape up ahead. Yes, that was who had spoken. She could hear them breathing heavily. “Have you seen Mama?” The girl said excitedly, running forward. She stopped a few feet in front of the person who had spoken. It was a man with a long coat and hat that obscured his face. The man from the elevator. “Where is she?”
“I saw your Mama,” the man said in a strange voice. “We played a little game. Sadly, she lost. Poor thing. Would you like to play a game with me?”
“Can I see my Mama?” The girl asked, clutching her balloon. Something inside her was telling her to get away, to run far away from this man. She pushed that part down. She needed to find her Mama, and this man knew where she was.
“If you play the game,” the man answered.
“Okay. How do I play?”
“First, you must go to the front desk. Grab the key to room 113. Let go of your balloon in front of the door to the room. Then, open the door and walk inside. There will be a knife on the counter. Pick it up. Walk into the bedroom, where I’ll be waiting. I’ll tell you what to do then, if you’ve followed my instructions.”
“And then I’ll see Mama,” the girl confirmed.
“And then you’ll see Mama.”
The girl turned around, running towards the elevator. She felt a strange sense of urgency that she couldn’t place. The girl grabbed the keys to room 113, feeling a twinge of pain for stealing. She ran back to the elevator, pressing 1, the edges of the keycard digging into her hand. In no time at all, the doors opened. She walked down the hallway, slower this time, the lights around her flickering and making strange shadows dance on the walls. The carpet seemed like a river of blood. “It’s just my imagination,” the girl whispered. “Just my imagination.” Her heart was beating faster, faster, faster while her steps got slower and slower. Soon enough, she was standing in front of the door to room 113. The girl let go of her balloon hesitantly. Mama had given it to her earlier in the day, before she left, and had promised to make more when she got back. Letting go seemed like letting go of Mama’s promise. That was silly, though, because she was about to see Mama once she finished the game. The girl watched as the balloon bobbed against the ceiling once, twice, before settling like an animal that had given up hope of escaping. She swiped the keycard through the sensor, the light blinking a brilliant green. She pushed open the heavy door and slipped through quickly, the door sealing her inside as it slammed shut. She ventured forward into the room. The knife was on the counter as promised, waiting. The girl hesitantly picked it up, the weight unfamiliar in her hands. She walked into the bedroom, where the man in the long coat and hat was waiting. No lights were on, so she could only see vague shadowy figures. One was the man, who was standing in a corner on the other side of the bed. In the bed itself, wrapped in the white sheets, was a lump vaguely shaped like a person. The lamp on the bedside table was turned off, the digital clock providing only the faintest glow.
“Good job,” the man praised. “Now, do as I say. You see that knife in your hands? Do you see that figure in the bed?” He waited until the girl nodded to continue. “I want you to pretend the knife is a pin. And I want you to pretend that figure is a pincushion. Can you stick the pin in the pincushion for me?”
“I’ll see Mama after this, right?” The girl’s voice was barely a whisper. The man nodded. “Okay. I can do this. For her.” The girl stepped over the figure—the pincushion, as the man said—and slid the pin in. There was resistance, and the girl had to use all her strength to push it in. Dark liquid slowly started spilling out of the space she had put the pin in, and the figure shuddered underneath her. A part of her screamed out, begging her to see that something was terribly wrong. She ignored it like she had been doing all night. They were just playing a game, a game that had been surprisingly easy.
“Pull out the pin,” the man said. The girl did so obediently. The figure let out a rattling gasp, and then finally fell still.
“Where’s Mama?” She asked. She had done everything the man had said. It was time for her reward.
“Turn on the lights and see for yourself,” the man replied. The girl went to the lamp, fumbling to turn it on. She blinked at the sudden influx of light, her vision going white for a second and slowly returning. The girl looked around at the room. The man was like a shadow in the corner, and she could see a hint of a smile on his face. The once-white sheets were now stained red, and she could see the figure’s head poking out. It almost looked like…
“Mama!” The girl cried, running to the bed. She pulled back the covers, and sure enough, it was her. “Mama, wake up!” The girl shook the lifeless body.
“She’s not waking up,” the man said with delightful glee.
“Who-who are you?” The girl asked, finally, tears in her eyes. “Why did you do this?”
“I’m everyone’s worst nightmare,” the man grinned. “And what are you talking about? I didn’t do anything. You were the one who came in here. You were the one who picked up a knife. You were the one who put that knife in your poor mother. I’m innocent!” The man laughed, a booming, terrifying sound. The girl dropped the knife and ran, her instincts finally taking over, but the man was faster. She was never seen or heard from again.
About the Author
Maggie K was born in Austin, Texas before moving to the Bay Area. She loves reading, and her imagination fuels her writing. She’s writing many stories.