Authors: Steve Bryant
Tags: #children's, #supernatural, #paranormal, #fitting in, #social issues, #making friends, #spine chilling horror, #scary stories, #horror, #fantasy
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks mentioned in this work of fiction.
Copyright © 2016 by Steve Bryant
MCGRAVE’S HOTEL by Steve Bryant
All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Month9Books, LLC.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
EPub ISBN: 978-1-944816-78-0
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-944816-50-6
Published by Tantrum Books for Month9Books, Raleigh, NC 27609
Illustration by Mat Dawson
Cover Copyright © 2016 Tantrum Books for Month9Books
For the whole gang:
Beth, Joshua, Nathan, and Sarah
Max, Audrey, and Charlie
The Fortune Teller
“McGrave’s Hotel,” said Miss Frobish as she inserted a telephone jack into her switchboard. Cords crisscrossed the panel like strands of a spider web.
“McGrave’s Hotel,” said a second young lady. “Reservations.”
“McGrave’s Hotel,” said a third. “To whom may I direct your call?”
Behind them, James Alexander Elliott, now almost twelve and wearing a smart bellhop uniform, listened to the chitchat as he strolled past. His uniform was dark green, and three columns of shiny brass buttons decorated the front of his jacket.
“McGrave’s Hotel,” a fourth young lady said. “Oh, hi, James,” she said over her shoulder. “Sorry, no calls for you today.”
“Same here,” said a fifth switchboard operator. “Sorry, James. No messages.”
A sixth young lady merely shook her head as he passed by.
James took the negatives in stride. He inquired at least daily, ever since he’d come to McGrave’s, and the answer was always the same: no messages. This was December 1936, so it had been what? Almost a year now, he calculated. Almost a year since he’d come to McGrave’s.
It was hard for James to fathom that nearly twelve months had passed since his parents had died. It happened when he and his family had lived in London, in a little settlement called Kingston upon Thames. They were staying in a friendly pub with rooms attached, and James and his mom and dad had just decorated the room with a three-foot-tall Christmas tree. They had hung red glass balls all around it and topped it with a foil-covered cardboard star.
Then there had been a brief mission into Germany.
“We’ll be away for two days, kiddo,” his mom had said. “Three tops. Be nice to Mrs. Clarke.”
His dad hadn’t really said good-bye that last time, had merely reached out and ruffled James’s hair. James always thought his dad looked heroic because he wore an eye patch.
On the few occasions that James’s mom and dad had to be away on some clandestine assignment, never more than a week and rarely more than overnight, it was Mrs. Clarke, who ran the pub, who kept an eye on James. Although she was super nice and seemed genuinely fond of James, he had always suspected she worked for the same spy agency that supervised his mom and dad.
Oh, James’s parents never
him they were spies in so many words, but James had always known. What else could they have been, given the skills they taught him from an early age? Mornings were Secret Messages and Invisible Inks; afternoons were Morse Code and Makeshift Weapons. Along the way, he learned how to predict the weather, how to navigate by looking at the constellations, how to pick locks, and how to start fires in the wilderness. He could decipher codes, and he could tie knots. He could memorize anything on a page with the briefest of looks, he knew about disguises to make someone blend with a crowd, and he knew to keep calm and think creatively if captured and tied up. He was adept with a compass and a magnifying glass and a jackknife. He was a boy with skills.
James continued his patrol of McGrave’s, moving from the chatter of the phone bank to the hush of an adjoining candle-lit alcove where another young lady sat at a table before a Ouija board. Her fingertips rested lightly on the little platform that glided over the board’s letters and numbers. Occasionally she would turn from her spirit conversations and jot notes on a lined pad. Some of the hotel guests made reservations from farther away than Indianapolis or Dubuque.
“Good evening, James,” she said without looking up. Her name was Miriam Charles, and she was the hotel’s psychic girl Friday. Part of the day she handled the hotel’s Very Long Distance reservations, and part of the night she told fortunes from table to table in the hotel restaurant.
Miss Charles was already dressed for her evening duties in a long black gown, and her dark wavy hair reflected the dancing flames of the candles. “Sorry, no communications for you this time,” she said, glancing at him fondly. “The Other Side is rather quiet tonight.”
“Hi, Miss Charles,” James said. “Gosh, it looks as if we are going to be extra busy this evening. The hotel is full up. Mr. Nash says things could get interesting.”
“Want to know for sure?” Miss Charles asked.
Miss Charles possessed a versatile arsenal of techniques for telling fortunes including star gazing, palm reading, interpreting tea leaves, casting bones, tossing dice, analyzing bumps on the head, and gazing into crystal balls. Yet of all the arcane methods available to her, her favorite was interpreting cards drawn from a tarot deck.
She didn’t give James the chance to refuse. She produced her well-worn deck and sprang the cards from one hand to the other in a cascade, as a magician might.
“A quick reading,” she said as she spread some of the cards face down across the table. “On the house. Miss Charles knows all.”
She instructed James to slide three cards from the spread.
“These are the cards of the major arcana,” she said. “They never lie.”
James held his breath as she turned the first of his cards face up. It depicted a lady with a sword, sitting next to a pair of scales.
“Justice,” Miss Charles said. Her voice had become deeper, more mysterious. “Interesting. Tonight, you will witness an important act of justice.”
James wondered if he should take Miss Charles’s utterances seriously. Some of the hotel staff thought she merely made up her little prophecies, telling customers what they wanted to hear. Others thought her prophecies were dead on and feared them. Whatever did she mean by justice?
The second card showed a man and a woman holding hands.
“The Lovers!” Miss Charles said. “Why, James, you never told me you had a girlfriend. It appears romance is in your future.”
?” he said. “I’m
! I don’t like
. I don’t even
any girls. I think the cards are screwy tonight.”
James immediately realized his statement wasn’t quite true. He had known a girl once, the year he was eight, the year he and his family lived in Brazil. Her name was Renata, and she had black hair. The two of them had had real adventures, boating alone on the Amazon despite seventeen-foot-long crocs and even longer anacondas.
But she was only a summer’s best friend, not a romance. Not like Miss Charles and Mr. Nash, the night manager. They were sweet on each other, according to hotel gossip. James wondered what it would be like to be grown up and have a girlfriend like Miss Charles. She was very pretty, but she was also kind of spooky. She knew things.
Miss Charles turned over the third and final card, and her face paled as she beheld its image: a skeleton astride a horse, carrying a scythe.
“Death!” she gasped. “I’m sorry; you’re right, James. The cards are making no sense tonight. We shouldn’t have done this. Silly of me to have tried.”