Thursday, April 12, 2020
“Should we explore?” asked Hannah, mouth full of pizza. They were sitting at a tall table in the restaurant that sat behind the lobby. Hannah had dark brown hair that was shaved close to her head on the right side with longer sweeping bangs on the left. Mack thought it was so cute, and brave, she’d never be willing to cut her long blonde hair that short. Hannah seemed like the kind of girl who didn’t much care what anyone thought of her. Mack loved that.
“Probably we’ll find ghosts,” Brie said, finishing her soda. “But yeah, we totally should.” Brie had thick red hair that fell to the middle of her back. She also had a face full of freckles and wore brown glasses that made her look really smart.
They all finished their drinks and took a breadstick to go. “Mom, we’re going to walk around,” Mack shouted in an effort to be heard over their moms’ uproarious laughter. The moms waved their hands, barely looking back from their table by the windows facing the lake and the blizzard.
Sari pointed to a stairwell going down in the corner of the restaurant. They looked around and didn’t see any staff, or signs, warning them not to go down. As they started to descend, it became clear that the lights were off down there. Mack pulled her phone out of her back pocket and turned on the flashlight, the other girls soon did the same.
When they got to the bottom, it was hard to tell what they were looking at, but lights turned on almost immediately, apparently motion sensor controlled. They were standing in a ginormous game room. There were pool tables, foosball tables, old school video games lined one wall, and in front of them were four TV stations with large flat screens and gaming systems. There was an unmanned bar in one corner and candy and soda machines in the other corner. The girls walked around looking at the different games.
“This would be really awesome…” Mack trailed off.
“If it wasn’t so creepy?” Brie finished for her.
Sari wandered over to the bar and was looking at framed photos that hung on the walls around it. “I can’t even decide why it feels creepy,” she said, trying to make sense of what she was looking at. The pictures were faded and seemed old. They looked like family photos but, in almost every single one, nobody looked happy. “Why would they put up pictures of mad people?”
The other girls joined her. “These look like my parents’ old pictures, except my parents’ families smiled,” said Hannah.
“That’s the Johnson family,” said a shaky deep voice. The girls jumped and turned around. Standing not far behind them was a skinny, wrinkled, and very old man. He wore dress pants, a sweater vest over a button down shirt, and a bow tie. His remaining hair, just at his temples, was bright white while the bald top of his head had age spots a shade or two darker than his skin.
“Sorry about that girls, I didn’t mean to startle you! My wife always said I was quiet as a mouse!”
The girls, still disconcerted that this old man had appeared out of nowhere, were silent. He kept talking.
“I’m Hank, I’ve worked at the Carlos Lake Lodge since 1965. Can you believe it?” He walked over to the bar and turned on the lights. “Can I get any of you girls a hot cocoa or a soda pop?”
Mack was the first to recover. She walked to the bar and sat on one of the stools. “Can I have a hot cocoa please? What do you do here?”
One by one, Sari, Hannah, and Brie sat on the remaining stools at the bar and asked for their own cups of hot cocoa.
As Hank made the drinks he explained “I do everything, and anything the Johnsons need. Or I did until old Mr. Johnson died, now I do whatever the new management company asks. Repairs, general property maintenance, you know, everything really.”
“Why were the Johnsons so unhappy?” Hannah asked, pointing at the wall of pictures.
Hank chuckled. “They didn’t like people all that much, and they owned a very successful lodge that was always filled with them, I think they were all rather miserable.” He held up a can of whipped cream in question and all four of the girls nodded. Placing the mugs in front of them, he continued, “when Mr. Johnson died the lodge was sold to some out of state company, so there aren’t any Johnsons even here anymore. The new owner renovated everything but wanted to keep the pictures up for some reason.”
Sari looked up from her hot chocolate, whipped cream on her lip, and asked “do the new owners like people?”
Hank shrugged. “I’ve never met them, they don’t come around. I’ve only spoken to a woman on the phone who is the property manager, but I’ve never seen anyone in-person. It’s all a little weird, if you ask me, but I’m thankful to be here. Everyone else was fired.”
“We’re exploring, what else is down here?” Hannah asked.
Hank looked uncomfortable for a moment, but quickly smiled to hide his initial reaction. “Nothing down here but staff quarters. I’m the only one in residence in the winter. In the summer every room is full with summer staff. I’d say, if you’re going to explore, you should stick to the first two floors. Everything above that is just rooms and suites.” With that he started wiping down the bar, as if he were closing.
The girls looked at each other, a little puzzled, and one by one got down from their stools. The conversation was apparently over.
“Can we take our mugs to go?” asked Brie.
Hank looked up, as if interrupted. “Oh! Of course, of course. You let me know if you need anything. I have an office off of the lobby and I’m in there most of the time. I just came down because I saw that the lights had turned on. Why don’t you head upstairs to see what you can find.” He turned around and started wiping down the back of the bar.
Sharing another confused look, the girls filed out of the game room and back up the stairs. “How did he know the lights turned on,” Brie whispered. “And where did he come from?”
“This place is getting weirder and weirder,” Hannah whispered back.
Hank had been up in his office, listening to jazz, and reading the newspaper when his iPad vibrated an alert. Hank squinted at the message. The game room lights were now on. This monitoring system the new management company sent him really was over the top. He set the paper down and looked over to the monitors that showed views of the lobby, the restaurant, the front entrance, the second floor ballroom, the activity spaces out back, and the game room. He saw the four girls walking around. And he couldn’t put his finger on why, but it made him very nervous. Where were their mothers? He scanned the monitors again and only saw staff cleaning up tables in the restaurant. Otherwise all of the screens were empty of people.
He sighed and slowly got to his feet (at 78 years old, he wasn’t as spry as he once was). He took the lobby elevator downstairs because his knees weren’t what they used to be. His wife would never have let him live this down if she were still alive. She was still bounding up and down stairs until the day she died.
When he got to the basement, they were looking at the photos. The photos made him uncomfortable. He knew all of the people in them, he’d been at the lodge for most of his life after all, but why did the new managers want the pictures to stay? They weren’t happy people, the Johnsons. They were all a little off. But he loved the lodge and they paid him ridiculously well, that is why he’d stayed all these years. He thought he’d leave when Mr. Johnson died, he had plenty of money and he was well past retirement age, but the new managers had doubled his salary.
Now, as he watched the girls go up the stairs, he wondered if maybe it was time to retire. Something about this group of guests and the blizzard dumping snow on top of all of them felt wrong. Maybe he was too old for this now. He decided he’d have to keep an eye on the girls. Clearly their mothers wouldn’t be doing that. He shut the lights off in the bar and slowly walked back to the elevator.