Wednesday, September 17, 2014

hotel absalom

by harold p sternhagen, writing as "amanda mccorbin"

originally appeared in the june 1950 issue of chilling tales.

illustrated by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

thanks to Anney Thomas for the inspiration for this traveler's tale

it had been a long, dreary day, and barbara's insistence on taking the motorcar instead of the erie railroad had proved, in annabelle's opinion, to be a complete and unmitigated disaster.

annabelle was never one to turn up her nose at the slightest comfort and luxury, and had always quite enjoyed the amenities of modern railways.

but barbara, who was inordinately proud of her new motorcar, which her doting father had presented to her on her thirtieth birthday, had insisted.

barbara always had her way in any divergence of opinion or inclination - they could hardly be called arguments - as they were over before they began - that she had with annabelle.

and so the motorcar it was.

annabelle only hoped that barbara would not massacre any country folk on the back roads on the way to cleveland. she knew that barbara had had several incidents of that sort in the past, costing her father a "pretty penny" though not, of course, anything he could not afford.

another irritation, one that only surfaced on the morning of their departure , was that there was room in the motorcar's storage for only one of annabelle's trunks!

what was she to do in cleveland, wear the same dress every day?

annabelle had to fight back tears, and almost - almost - backed out of going on the trip, but a few stern words from barbara brought her in line, as always.

in the end, the first leg of the trip was not too eventful.

no peasants were killed, only a couple of sheep and an animal that annabelle thought was a dog but that barbara insisted was a wolf - "not that i shall receive any gratitude for killing it, oh no - of course these people are quick enough out of the underbrush with their hands out when one of their wretched spawn runs out in front of me -"

the weather was actually quite pleasant, especially the breezes that were stirred up when there was enough of a straight road for barbara to really "let her rip".

but any thought of the excursion as a whole being anything but unpleasant was quite dashed on their arrival at the hotel on which they were to spend their first night, before setting out for their eventual destination of cleveland the following day.

in the fading light of the day, it was quite the dreariest place annabelle had ever seen - and she had seen some dreary places, especially on vacations with her mother and her aunt coletta when she had been a child - all those gray lakes and mountains and the endless pine trees!

at least a few of those places had had a touch of romantic decay about them.

this place - what was its ridiculous name? - the hotel absalom - was certainly devoid of romance.

and even of decay - its dreariness was of the sort that might have been slapped together willy-nilly from inferior materials the week, or the day before.

now annabelle squinted at the dusty front window and the deadly potted plant beside the entrance, and asked barbara:

"do you think - do you think this perhaps might not be the place?"

to which barbara of course gave one of her patented guffaws. "of course it is the place! there are probably not two places called the hotel absalom in the entire world, let alone two in this godforsaken county."

"but - there is not even a doorman."

"then i suppose we shall have to open the door ourselves, will we not?"

"but -" annabelle looked around in the descending gloom - "where is the doorman? surely there must be one."

"who knows? perhaps he is chasing away a goat. perhaps he is answering a call of nature."

how annabelle hated it when barbara made such uncouth references - especially in public places! but that was her way.

"but surely we can not be expected to carry our own trunks inside," annabelle protested.

"i am sure the desk clerk will dispatch someone to bring them in," barbara answered.

"but-" annabelle looked back at the motorcar. "are we to leave our baggage unattended?"

"who is going to steal it? the goat that the doorman chased away? come on, namby-pamby, the sooner we get inside the sooner we will have something to eat. i am starving."

annabelle, who was not in the least hungry, sighed and followed barbara through the front door.

the lobby of the hotel proved even darker and more dismal than it had appeared from the outside.

at least there was a desk clerk on duty - annabelle had been afraid there might not be - though no bellhops in sight.

annabelle stepped up to the desk. in their excursions together it usually fell to annabelle to deal with desk clerks and servants and such, as they had found by experience that barbara's imperious manner often resulted in all manner of tiresome unpleasantnesses .

the clerk was scratching away diligently at something. after about a minute he looked up.


"i believe we have a reservation. i am miss porter, and this is miss devereaux. we reserved for one night."

the clerk took his time checking some sort of little notebook.

"yes," he finally answered with a slightly surprised air. "you are indeed. sign here, please." and he turned the register toward annabelle.

annabelle signed it , and barbara followed suit.

"our bags and trunks are outside. do you think you could have them brought indoors?" annabelle asked, with what was for her a touch of unusual asperity.

the clerk bowed his head with the resignation of one just sentenced to the gallows. "of course, miss."

the rest of the evening passed uneventfully. annabelle and barbara were the only diners in the restaurant. the food was unspeakable, but barbara ate enough of it for three hired men.

the room was not quite so bad as it might have been, and annabelle, happy that the day was over, slept soundly.


"good morning. we would like to check out."

the desk clerk, a different one from the night before and a cheeky looking fellow, laughed. "check out? i'm sorry, miss, but there is no checking out of the hotel absalom."

"what nonsense!" exclaimed annabelle. "here is our key. now, if you would be so kind as to present us with our bill so that we may pay it, we will be on our way."

the clerk patted his little mustache. " i repeat, miss, there is no checking out of the hotel absalom, only checking in."

"bah!" annabelle turned back to barbara for encouragement. "we agreed to no such thing."

"but you did, miss. you signed. you both signed."

"we signed nothing but the register."

"then i assume you did not read the small print." the clerk reached for the register and turned it around on the desk to face annabelle.

at the top of the page, above the lined spaces for signatures, in print so small annabelle had to take out her pince nez to read it, were the words:

we, the undersigned, do hereby declare before all the angels in heaven and all the demons on earth and in hell that we renounce the world outside this hotel, the hotel absalom in avalon township, pennsylvania , and that we likewise consign our bodies and our souls to the exclusive care and possession of the proprietors of the said hotel absalom, and all such powers and dominions of the earth, the air, and the nether regions (commonly referred to as "hell") as such proprietors are in league with, in perpetuity.

how absurd! without speaking, annabelle turned to barbara and pointed to the register.

barbara stepped forward and read the words. strangely, so far from displaying the burst of outrage annabelle expected, she smiled.

laughed, actually. "well, my dear," she addressed annabelle, "i guess we shall just have to make the best of it. it might be rather jolly."

annabelle blanched. suddenly it all came to her - who was barbara anyway and what did she know about her? yes, she knew her violent outbursts, her delight in carnage, her scorn of danger, her ferocious appetite, her contempt for polite amenities -

annabelle's mind raced back to their first strange, fateful meeting, on that rainy day when annabelle had lost her way in the cobbled back streets of rome -

lost her way ---

and now barbara smiled at annabelle, as she had never quite smiled before.

and annabelle heard laughter ---


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