THE SECRETS OF DIDOVICH HOTEL
The doorbell rings three times as Jake washes the remaining shaving foam off of his face. Moments later, Bradley and Veronica charge through the unlocked door, thundering up the stairs belting ‘School’s Out’ by Alice Cooper. They are followed closely by Clarke, who drifts across from her worn out place over the road, and then Georgia, dropped off in a BMW by her parents. They load up the van and stand around in the kitchen waiting for the last member of the group. Heath was unusually late to arrive. “Finally!” Jake complains as he hears the door at the end of the hallway click open. Heath saunters into the kitchen, shrugging in response. Georgia shrieks and pulls him into a tight hug, and Bradley takes the opportunity to lean into Jakes’ ear. He mutters, “Something is off. Look at him.” It is then that Jake notices how different Heath appears. His shoulders are broader and his arms more muscular. He had obviously been working out over the summer. But even more prominent than this change are the grey bags that have emerged under his eyes. Bradley whispers, “He didn’t want to come. Veronica had to go over to talk him into it.”
Jake examines Heath’s face and considers his resistance to joining the group for this trip. He had been unenthusiastic from the start. When Jake had messaged the group chat with the news that he’d won a week’s stay at the Didovich, he’d replied: Yo isn’t that the place in the news? I read something about the ghosts there going mad. Some Government tests used to be run there or something.
Didovich was in the middle of a thriving city. The rest of the group had dismissed his concerns as nonsense derived from some sort of media sensationalism.
Within ten minutes the group have moved Heath’s things into the van, made twelve peanut butter sandwiches and loaded a chilly bin with two bottles of vodka and as many sprite cans as they can fit. Jake locks the door of the house as his friends clamber into the van. Georgia cries “shotgun!” and settles into the passenger seat, connecting her phone to the speaker cable.
They speed across the state of California, reaching the hotel as the sun is starting to hide behind the buildings towering above them. The boys start to unload the van and Jake notices Georgia turn away from the group. He puts down the chilly bin and follows her around a corner, turning into a brick-clad alleyway. Jogging to Georgia, he sees a shadow move at the end of the alley and halts. He watches as Georgia raises her phone to take a photo, and jumps when sparks and smoke explode from its back. Georgia shrieks and drops the phone, holding her hands to her chest as though they’ve been burned. She glances back and notices him. Her eyes are wide and bewildered. “I only wanted a photo,” she mumbles. As they walk back to the hotel entrance, Jake examines the still-warm phone. It appears in perfect condition, but won’t turn on.
As they enter the hotel, Jake feels the chill of eyes on him. He pushes back the hood of his jumper, examining the crowd around him. “What is wrong with these people?” Veronica whispers to Jake. He doesn’t respond. All of his friends seem to be on edge and looking around – all of them except Georgia. As they wait to be served at the counter, he observes that the air conditioning is very cold. It is already a cool day.
Finally, the group are given the keys. Georgia, Veronica, and Clarke are given a navy blue room card with the number ‘076’ printed on it, while Jake, Heath, and Bradley receive a key for room ‘077.’ The sun has set by the time they make it to their rooms. Bradley pushes past Heath and Jake roaring “I want first pick!” He shoves into the boys’ room and leaps onto the only double bed, fitted tightly with white sheets, with a white duvet cover draped over. The walls and upholstery are also white. The effect is strikingly sterile.
As the clock strikes midnight, the hotel halls echo with silence. All but one room have the lights off. Six floors below, a blue glow emits from under the door of room ‘013’. From inside, barely audible, comes the sound of scratches. Like fingernails against metal. Heath bolts upright when a scream pierces the air around him. He gapes at the two boys next to him. They are both still asleep.