Being an up-and-coming novelist, I have tried my hand at crafting stories in various genres. High fantasy, science fiction, children’s erotica, spy thrillers, the list goes on. However, one genre I have not dabbled in is horror. I felt it was time to rectify this by writing a terrifying novel of my own. And what better way to do that than by getting inside the head of one of the masters?
Stephen King is a powerhouse. He has published fifty-four novels, almost two hundred short stories, and sold nearly four hundred million copies of his work. Impressive numbers to be sure, but aside from that, I don’t actually see that much difference between King and myself. We’re both writers, we both have wives named Tabitha, and we’ve both been to Maine at least once.
So what is it that makes King so much more prolific, successful, and likable than I am? What led him to create such a cultural masterpiece as The Shining? After much late night soul searching, I found I had narrowed my answer down to two options: Either Stephen King crafted a pinnacle of modern literature because he worked tirelessly to create the best work he could out of sheer determination and talent, or it’s because he stayed in a creepy hotel one night.
Since the latter option sounded way easier, I decided to emulate that one.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is the real life inspiration for the haunted hotel featured in The Shining. King stayed in the hotel one night in 1977, and the experience shaped what would become one of his seminal works. The hotel is still quite operational, and seems foreboding enough to unleash ANY aspiring novelist’s inner murder ghosts.
I tried to book a room for my wife and I this past weekend, but apparently you have to put in a reservation well in advance for a place like that. So instead we wound up staying in a Holiday Inn in Denver, which was probably just as good. I’ve stayed at some fucked up Holiday Inns before, so hopefully this one would inspire me to murder my wife and then write a book just as much as the Stanley would have.
Bask in the sheer terror.
We made it to the hotel in good time. While Tabitha carried in the luggage, I sauntered up to the front desk to check in.
“Hi,” I said to the clerk. “Do you guys have a hedge maze? Is it open after hours? How cold does it get? Have you had anyone freeze to death in there?”
She stared at me. “Um. No?”
All right, so we were off to a bad start. Without a hedge maze I would have to figure out somewhere else to go when I eventually lost my mind. Maybe the room where they serve continental breakfast or something.
Tabitha came into the lobby with bags hanging from her hands, elbows, and shoulders. She started to head for the elevator, but I stopped her.
“No, babe, don’t go in there. That thing’s going to be full of blood. Let’s take the stairs.”
Plus, I mean, we’ll probably have to stand there and make awkward small talk with an elderly Korean couple or something too.
Six flights of stairs later, we had made it to our floor. We reached the door to our room. Tabitha fell against the wall, panting. I swiped the keycard and popped the door open.
I turned to Tabitha. “Honey, you go in first and shut the door, all right? I’ve got a surprise. Here wait, leave that big bag here. I need something out of it.”
She gave me a peculiar look, set down the bag, and went into the room. Once she had shut the door I bent down and unzipped the bag. It was weirdly shaped with a long thin part sticking out of the top. Like the kind of bags they use to carry baseball gear, bat included. Inside, among the socks and toiletries was a long strip of wood which ended in a sharp hunk of metal.
Now, I may not be as proficient in ax wielding as some of my co-workers, but I’ve seen The Shining enough times to understand how this part was supposed to work. I stood up, ax gripped firmly in my hands, and poised it over my shoulder.
“Here’s Gus!” I screamed and swung the ax.
The ax hit the door with a rather pitiful thunk and deflected sharply perpendicular to my angle of attack. Surprised, I let go of the handle and the ax clattered to the floor. I looked back and forth between it and the door. There was a six-inch gash in the woodright next to the peephole. I frowned. It was weird that it didn’t break right through. They must make doors stronger now than they did in the seventies.
Seriously, this had to be basically cardboard.
The door swung open and Tabitha’s concerned expression poked out.
“Gus, what the hell was that? Jesus, why do you have an ax?”
“I… I was trying to do the thing. You know, from the movie. I guess we haven’t been here long enough of it to make a lot of sense.”
She raised an eyebrow at the damaged door. “You know we’re going to have to pay triple for that, right?”
I let out a sigh. “Yeah, I know.”
* * *
“So you’re saying that you wanted to come all the way to Denver to sit in a hotel the entire time?”
Tabitha stood by the door of our room with her arms folded. I looked up from my typewriter.
I said, “Well yeah. That’s why we came here. I’ve got to get into the Stephen King mindset if I’m going to write a bestselling horror novel. I need to let this hotel effect my psyche.” I gestured to the typewriter. “Look, see? I’m already getting started writing my masterpiece. I think when you read it you’ll agree that it’s quite disturbing.”
“Okay,” she said. “Well I’m going to go wander around the city for a while. I’ve never been to Colorado before and I want to check things out. With or without you.”
I waved a hand dismissively and got back to typing.
She sighed and stepped out the door. “I’ll be back in a few hours, I guess.”
“Babe hey!” I said. “Come back! I need to ask you something.”
She poked her head back into the room and raised an eyebrow.
I said, “Do you think it’s working? Do I seem insane yet?”
She sighed. “Not in the way you think.”
* * *
Later that night after she got back I let her look over my work in progress while I went to wander the halls of the hotel looking for creepy little girls or something.
Or maybe if I was lucky, a seductive naked ghost lady.
I had no such luck. A couple hours later I returned to the room. Tabitha lay on the bed, flicking through channels on the TV. The stack of papers I had been working on sat on the nightstand.
I put my hands on my hips. “Well?”
She glanced at me. “Well what?”
“What did you think of what I wrote?”
“It was great, sweetie. Really interesting.”
I stared at her. “No it wasn’t! It was four hundred pages of ‘All work and no play makes Gus a dull boy’! Don’t you see how crazy that is?!” I shook the pages at her. “Did you even read it?”
She sighed. “Gus, you know that Stephen King didn’t get his inspiration by actually going crazy in a hotel, right?”
“I’m getting into the mind of my character! You wouldn’t understand; you’re not a writer! Jesus babe, how did this not send up any red flags?” I gasped with a sudden horrific realization. “Oh my God, do you actually read anything I write?”
She vigorously avoided eye contact. “Well, I mean, I read most of it. I kinda skim some stuff.”
“What?!” I shouted, mouth agape. “You’re my alpha reader, babe! I don’t send any of my manuscripts out unless you tell me they’re good! Jesus, is this why I get nothing but awful feed back from my betas?
“Look, I know the gist of the stories you have me read. It’s just that your sentence construction gets pretty easy to predict, so I don’t have to focus a hundred percent.”
I threw my hands into the air and kept them there as I stomped away, arms waggling in indignation.
“Honey, wait!” she called after me. “I meant that as a compliment!”
The slamming door gave a more articulate response than I ever could.
* * *
“Another whiskey and pineapple juice?” said the bartender.
I was already several drinks in. I sat slumped on the stool with my chin resting on the bar. The unappreciated brilliance inside my head felt heavier than ever.
“Yeah,” I said, my words running together. “Make this one a double.”
I wiped slobber from my bottom lip as the bartender went about mixing the drink. I grabbed the glass the instant he set it down in front of me.
“Thanks whatever-your-name-is,” I said as I started chugging.
“The name’s Lloyd,” the bartender said.
I choked on my drink. That had perked me right up. “Oh my God,” I gushed. “Is it really?! That’s just like in The Shining! This is fantastic!” I grabbed his hand and pumped it up and down. “My name’s Gus. I’m a novelist. Well, novelist and screenwriter. And a poet. And a cover artist. All that stuff, really.”
He nodded. “Cool. Nice to meet you Gus.”
I had just been about to ask him if he happened to be a ghost or specter of some kind when the phone behind the bar rang.
“Excuse me for a moment,” he said.
I waved him off and he stepper over to answer the phone. “This is Lloyd,” he said. “Yes… Why yes… I see…” His eyes flicked over at me. “Well that sounds fine to me… No trouble at all… All right, goodbye.”
He placed the phone onto the receiver and shook his head.
“What was all that about?” I asked.
He walked over to me. Serious lines cut across his face. “Apparently there’s been something quite spooky going on in this hotel.”
I perked up. “Really? Like what?”
His eyes narrowed and darted side to side. He leaned in close, dropping his voice to a whisper. “Now look, I’m not saying that I think this place is haunted or anything. But lately I’ve been hearing rumors about ghosts.”
I gasped. “Seriously? Actual, real ghosts?”
He nodded. “They say the ghosts don’t originate from here. They come from all over and convene here, in this accursed Holiday Inn, to fulfill some part of their dark purpose.”
I leaned in, my butt cupping the edge of my stool. “How would I go about seeing one of these ghosts? Do you know?”
Lloyd nodded. “Well, as a matter of fact–”
“There you are, Gus! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
It was Tabitha. I sighed in frustration. Of course she had to barge in right now, just as I was about to uncover some supernatural mysteries!
It’s hard to imagine a worse wife, really.
I spun around on my stool. “Tabitha, could you just give me a minute here? Lloyd and I were having a conversation.”
Lloyd blinked. He looked briefly around the room then back at me. “Hey man, who are you talking to?”
I waved a hand at Tabitha, standing four feet away. “My wife. She probably wants me to go tea kettle shopping or tell me I’m a terrible writer or something.”
Lloyd stared at me, his expression ghastly. “Gus…” he said. “There’s no one there.”
My brow wrinkled and I looked back at Tabitha. She held her hand out to me. I leaped off my stool and nearly fell over. “You! You’re… you’re a…”
“Gus,” she said. “Come on Gus. It’s time to go.”
Lloyd cocked his head. “Huh, I hear a kind of breeze or something. But I could have sworn I closed the windows…”
“Aha!” I shouted, pointing a finger at my ghost-wife. “You’ve been a figment of my imagination this whole time, haven’t you? It all makes so much sense now!”
She held her arms wide. “Well, I guess you caught me.”
I threw my head back. “Ha ha, you dumb ghost bitch! You thought you could pull one over on me! Lloyd, check this out! I totally have a ghost wife!”
Lloyd clapped his hands against his cheeks. “Wow, you should totally write about this! Do you blog?”
I scoffed. “Excuse me? I’m white and in my late twenties, of course I blog!”
“Well, put this story up there. It will go viral for sure!”
Tabitha stepped to my side. “All right, honey, let’s get going, shall we?”
I staggered backwards, almost falling again but then catching myself on the bar. “You’re taking me to the underworld, aren’t you, demon?”
She blinked. “Uh, yes. Yes I am, in fact.”
I grinned maniacally. “This is so fucking awesome.”
Oh yeah! That’ll be me, baby!
Tabitha slid a few dollar bills over to Lloyd, which didn’t make any sense to me because he wouldn’t have any use for ghost money.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
For a second I thought that Lloyd acknowledged her, but then I realized that he was probably just nodding at the breeze. Like people do.
Tabitha came up underneath me and looped one of my arms around her neck. I leaned my entire body weight against her, surprised at how corporeal she was.
She hobbled us through the lobby and people stared the whole time. I laughed to myself. Nobody else could see Tabitha, so they probably thought I was doing some kind of crazy, off-balance mime routine.
“Don’t worry everyone!” I said. “It’s just my ghost wife, carrying me off into the underworld! I’m going to get totally famous off this and then boy will you all feel dumb!”
“I already checked us out,” Tabitha said. “The bags are in the car.”
I gasped. “Wow! Your telekinetic powers are incredible!”
“Yeah. They sure are. Okay, here’s the car. Get in.”
Sadly, this was not the vehicle she took me to.
She took one hand off me and opened the passenger door. I let gravity pull me downward and Tabitha managed to shove my flailing limbs into the vehicle. She shut the door and went around to the other side.
Something occurred to me. I looked at her. “Hey, ghosts can’t drive cars, idiot.”
Ghost-Tabitha’s eyebrows scrunched together. “How do you know this isn’t a ghost car?” she said.
“Oh my God, touche!”
I thought I heard her mutter something like, “damn moron,” but I think she must have been talking about the living in general. She got into the car and twisted the keys in the ignition with the telekinetic powers she channeled through her hand.
“God, I’m gonna write a sweet story out of this,” I said as I vomited into the cupholders. “Thanks for being a ghost, babe. I’ve got some great material now.”
The ghost of Tabitha Harrington sighed. “No problem,” she said and pressed her spectral foot onto the gas pedal. The car lurched forward, descending into the depths of oblivion.
At least for me anyway, since I passed out almost immediately.
Anyway, yeah The Shining is great. But my book is going to be even better!