While looking through my old Intro to Horror folder, I found this short story. I submitted it to be published in a horror anthology a while back but I don’t think it was selected. Anyway, I hope you guys like it. It was inspired by the popular TV show Supernatural.
The sound of the running water made Heather wake with a gasp. She sat up in bed, squinting groggily through semi-darkness in search for the source of the trickling sound. A glance at her alarm clock had her groaning and falling back into bed.
It’s probably just Karrie in the bathroom…down the hall.
Heather cracked an eye open and listened harder. The hissing, bubbling, gurgling sound was too loud to be coming from the hallway bathroom. She slid out of bed and shuffled to her own bathroom.
Did I accidentally leave the water running?
She reached out to the silver handles of the sink and tugged both of them. Water spurted out of the tap. Brow wrinkling in confusion, Heather shut the water off. Still, the sound persisted. She turned in a slow circle, listening, trying to find the source. Her furniture were mere lumps and vague shapes in the darkness. The curtains fluttered by the window, which had been left partially open to let in the crisp, autumn air. Her rotation ended when her eyes found the toilet.
Of course, the stupid thing’s broken again.
She let out a frustrated sigh, although, she couldn’t help feeling slightly relieved that the mystery of the running water had been solved. She marched over to the toilet, hoping it was an easy fix and she would be back in bed soon. The closer she came to the toilet, the further away the trickling water sounded. Heather paused and held her breath, listening again. If it wasn’t coming from the sink and it wasn’t coming from the toilet, where was it coming from?
Flipping on the switch caused light to erupt from up above, burning brighter than Heather had anticipated. She turned away with a hissed curse and blinked furiously at the mirror. For a moment, her reflection stared back at her; a woman with a bob of red, messy hair, crusted sleep dust in the corners of her sea green eyes, bed sheet creases across her left cheek, and dressed in wrinkled cotton pajamas.
Like lightning streaking across the sky, a second reflection appeared in the mirror beside her. It was a teenage girl with wet brown hair clinging to the sides of her round face, narrowed eyes ringed with mascara, mouth twisted in a feral snarl. Her upper arms bulged beneath a bright pink cardigan and the soaking wet denim jumper she wore pressed into her stomach so much that her belly button was visible through the fabric. Clutched in her meaty fist was a little Naruto doll.
Heather let out a high pitched scream that would have made any dog within a fifteen mile radius wince, and flailed away from the apparition. The toilet crashed into the back of her knees, sending her down on her butt over the tile. Her head smacked against the wall with an awful crack. She curled into the fetal position, hands pressed into the sides of her head. When the pain began to fade, she dared a glance at the mirror.
Her own pale, gasping face stared back at her.
You were half asleep, she told herself as she packed her bag the next morning. You couldn’t have possibly seen what you thought you saw.
The anniversary of her death is coming soon, she reasoned as she tossed her bag and her daughter’s suitcase into the car. You were thinking about her before you went to sleep. You were probably just dreaming.
“Hey, Mom?” Karrie called from the front door.
Heather leaned out of the car and smiled. “Yes, hon?”
“Can I borrow your curling iron? Mine isn’t working.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll buy you another one when we get back. Mine should be in the second drawer in my bathroom.”
Where I saw the ghost of Shelby Bennett.
Heather kept smiling after her daughter until she disappeared back into the house. Then she wrapped her arms around her torso and took a deep, shuddering breath.
It doesn’t mean anything, she thought firmly.
You’re marked for death.
She squeezed her eyes shut. No.
You know how the others died. All of them were found in or near bodies of water. All of them drowned, just like Shelby did. And in all of the pictures in the news about their deaths, there was always a damn Naruto doll hiding in plain sight.
Heather pressed the palms of her hands against her eyelids and gritted her teeth. Stop it!
You have to warn Belinda. After you’re gone, she’ll be the only one left.
“Shut up!” she growled. She lowered her hands and peeled her eyes open to see a Naruto doll in the driver’s seat.
Her scream echoed across the lawn, drawing the eyes of a little old man doing his morning gardening across the street. Heather took deep breaths and blinked down at her now empty seat, heart hammering painfully against her ribs. Then she straightened up, ran a hand through her hair, and aimed a smile at her elderly neighbor. “Sorry about that. There was a bug on my seat. Almost gave me a heart attack. You have yourself a lovely morning.”
The old man just kept blinking at her, brow creased, mouth partially open as if he wanted to ask her something but had forgotten what his question was.
Heather ducked into the car and closed the door, hands gripping the wheel. She didn’t move until Karrie came skipping out of the house with a backpack slung over her shoulder and a purse in hand. The sight brought a smile to Heather’s lips. Her daughter was seventeen and couldn’t seem to go anywhere without packing at least three bags. Belinda often joked that their daughters had been switched at birth. Karrie was confidence incarnate with curves, blond hair, and mint green eyes that were almost blue in the sunlight. Fey, Belinda’s girl, was thin as a pole with brown hair and coal black eyes, and was more interested in RPGs than cheer. The only reason she was on the squad was because her mother insisted upon it.
Karrie buckled her seatbelt and immediately reached for the radio dial. “Can we stop by the coffee shop and get something to drink? I’m dying for a frappuccino.”
You know what, honey? I don’t think I’m feeling well enough to go with you guys to the Away game. How about I call Belinda and have her take you to the school? I know you’ll do great. Text me about the game after it’s over, okay?
The words were right on the tip of her tongue, but she knew what Belinda would say if the former cheer captain could read Heather’s thoughts now.
You’re being ridiculous. There’s no such thing as ghosts or possessed dolls who can magically appear and disappear. Just suck it up and drive already.
So she did.
Belinda leaned across the counter and blew the blond curl out of her face (the one that always seemed to spring in out of nowhere when she was annoyed about something). “What do you mean there isn’t a record of our reservations? I made them myself three weeks ago!”
“Mom,” Fey groaned, casting a quick look around the lobby. “Keep your voice down. You’re embarrassing us.”
Belinda rolled her eyes at her daughter and sent a quick smile at the rest of the cheerleaders gathered behind her. “Sorry, girls. We’ll be done here in no time.” She aimed her steely glare on the clerk. “Those reservations have to be there. We have a game early tomorrow morning.”
The young clerk nodded vigorously as if to hide just how terrified he was, smile plastered on his face. “I’m very sorry, ma’am, but I’ve checked our records three times and there aren’t any reservations for five, double queen rooms under the name Belinda Kurr or Oswald High.” He twisted the computer screen so that Belinda could see the lists on display. “I can scroll down for you, but the dates for this weekend should be clearly visible.”
“Yes, all right, fine!” Belinda snapped, pushing the screen away. “Do you have anything available for tonight? We don’t have time to drive around the whole city, looking for someplace to sleep.”
The clerk shook his head and gestured to the screen again, smile still firmly in place. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but as you just saw, we are booked until late next week. I’d be happy to give you a list of other hotels that might have vacancies, but there is that World Religions festival going on downtown—”
“We’ll take the list,” Belinda said.
Heather was shaking, literally shaking, as she stared up at the Super 8 sign. “B-Belinda?”
“What?” she snapped over her shoulder. She groaned at the look on her friend’s face. “Oh, for the love of…Come on, Heather! It’s the only place with enough rooms available. We’ll only be here two nights. Suck it up!” She marched into the lobby without waiting to see if anyone followed her.
Heather turned with a start when someone touched her elbow. Karrie stared up at her in concern. Fey stood just behind, blowing her bangs out of her face.
“Mom? Are you okay?” Karrie asked.
“Don’t let my mom get to you, Ms. Greenwall,” Fey droned. “She cares way too much about these games.”
Heather nodded and tried to summon that persistent smile the clerk at the Best Western had. “I’m fine, girls. I’ve just had bad experiences with Super 8 hotels, that’s all.”
A teenage girl falling into a pool.
Flailing arms just visible above the roiling water.
Laughs and snorts and giggles competing with the sound of splashing.
That desperate plea for help.
The stuffed Naruto doll lying on the lawn chair.
Yes, Heather thought, staring back up at the hotel sign. Very bad experiences.
The room smelled like cigarettes and stale beer. Heather gagged and Belinda swore.
“Oh, no. No way are we staying here. I asked for non-smoking rooms!” Belinda dropped her suitcase just inside the room and marched back down the hall. “The other rooms better not be this bad or I’m suing this place for all its worth. Our girls won’t be able to breathe much less sleep in these conditions!” Her rant continued until she turned the corner and disappeared from sight.
Heather turned back to the room, nose wrinkled. There had to be some way to get rid of that smell. She slapped at the light switches, hoping the overhead fan would turn on. There was a brilliant flash of light and a popping sound from above. Heather stifled a scream and scrambled back to the door. Smokey gray glass pieces fell from the ceiling fan and landed almost soundlessly over the bed. When she realized that the light had most likely burned out, she tried to laugh at her skittishness and only succeeded in making a choking sound. Heather swallowed hard and lowered her over-night bag onto the luggage rack.
The wallpaper was a washed out gray with white stripes. It was peeling, almost as if the walls had been doused with buckets of water and had then been allowed to dry. The carpet crunched under her feet as she walked. She hurried across the room, threw the curtains aside, and pried the window open to air out the room. The sounds of playful laughter and splashing reached her ears. Heather stepped away from the window, mouth gaping in horror. She had a poolside view. The sun was setting behind the giant L shaped building that was the Super 8, but a young couple and their three children were still swimming around in the pool.
Heather’s stomach turned. She looked away, took a deep breath, tried to calm down. Everything will be fine. It’s only for two nights and then we’ll be speeding back home.
She reached over her shoulder to rub the muscles bunched around her neck. She could use a bubble bath, but the thought of submerging herself in water sent her shivering to her bed. She carefully picked up the shards of glass and tossed them into the trash. The bedsprings protested when she sat down. Heather peeled off her shoes and socks, and crawled under the covers. Maybe a nap would do her good. She had just closed her eyes when the sound of running water burst into existence. She sat up and looked around, although, the rush of water sounded as if it were coming from directly above. Heather dared a peek.
Two wet footprints appeared on the ceiling.
Heather made a strange whimpering sound that summed up her terror and confusion more accurately than words ever could. The prints began to multiply as if someone very wet and very heavy were walking along the popcorn tiles. Petrified with fear, she could do nothing but clutch the edge of the blanket and watch those footprints make their way to the opposite wall. The footprints continued down that wall to the floor, further defying gravity and reason. The carpet squished-squashed as the wet feet traveled to Heather’s bed. The sound of running water lessened until it was a simple but persistent drip. Heather let out a shriek, threw the covers aside, and dashed into the bathroom. Once the door was shut and locked, she backed away, hoping it would end there. A wet handprint appeared over the center of the door.
“I’m sorry,” Heather sobbed. “I-It was an accident!”
The faucet turned on behind her, causing her to spin around with a curse. The Naruto doll leaned against the mirror, eerily cheerful, blue eyes boring into Heather’s. Both handles had been tugged forward; the water was jetting into the sink faster than it could go down the drain. It overflowed in seconds, spilling down the counter and onto the floor.
Heather pressed herself against the wall, teary eyes flickering from the water to the wet stain on the door. “P-Please, don’t kill me. I have a daughter. She needs me!”
The tap gurgled and then ejected water into the tub with an angry roar. Heather flinched and uttered a pathetic cry. Her knees wobbled and her hands shook even as they pressed themselves against the wall. Everything within her thought it wise to abandon ship. Burning bile traveled up her throat and warm urine rushed down her leg. She wanted to scream, call for help, make a mad dash for the door even if that awful stain was standing guard. But all she could do was cower and cry.
“I’ll do anything you want! Anything! Just please, don’t—”
The Naruto doll pushed off the mirror and flew right at her face. Heather screamed and leapt away from the wall, reaching for the door handle. It felt as if a fist-sized rock smashed into her back. She pitched forward, falling face-first against the door. Pain erupted around her nose and then darkness swept in.
When she woke again, she couldn’t breathe. Something was wrapped around her throat and pressing her back against the floor. Water thundered like a miniature waterfall somewhere above her head. Instinct kicked in and Heather began to thrash around in the water. Because she wasn’t on the floor. Her back was pressed up against the bottom of the bathtub, now full. She clawed at the little hands around her neck, but they wouldn’t yield. She kicked out with her legs. Her toe clipped the tile around the tub and sent pain up her foot. The pressure was building over her lungs. She desperately wanted to inhale, but to do so would only speed up the process. She had to break free. She fought harder.
Shelby’s face appeared before her in the water, mouth open as a blood-curdling scream tore past her lips. Heather screamed in response and the water rushed in. She choked and gagged as the water traveled up her nose and down her throat. Alarms were blaring in her brain. She was dying. And then Shelby vanished. The Naruto doll pulled away, taking its mysterious strength with it. Heather sat ramrod straight, emerged from the water, and bent over the side of the tub to vomit. The sickening sound and smell filled the room. She blinked around as she coughed and tried to catch her breath; the sink and the tap over the tub had stopped pouring out water. Shelby’s ghost stood, trembling with barely controlled fury, at the center of the room. The doll stood upright at her feet, sopping wet and bending forward slightly from the added weight of the water. And in that moment, somehow, Heather knew exactly what they wanted.
“All right,” she croaked. “I’ll do it.”
Belinda stopped shouting when her phone pinged. The clerk was in tears, being consoled by the manager, who kept shooting Belinda venomous looks. Belinda held up a threatening finger.
“This isn’t over yet,” she growled before fishing her phone out of her purse and checking to see who had dared interrupt her tirade. It was a group text. She counted at least twenty different phone numbers before she turned her attention back to the message. It was a video from Heather. Belinda warily pressed play.
“I’m sending this video to everyone on my contact list because it’s about time the truth was known,” Heather croaked. She looked awful; soaked to the bone and pale as a sheet. She hacked a painful-sounding cough and then continued. “Twenty years ago, Belinda Kurr, Kelsey Jacobson, Julia Harper, Lauren Rodriguez, Wendy Rune, Sadie Woo, Shelby Bennett, and myself were cheerleaders, going to our first Away game here in Sacramento. We stayed at this very hotel.”
Belinda’s heart kicked into high gear as she stared down at her phone. No…
“Shelby was a decent enough dancer but she had always been quiet, a little overweight, and more interested in drawing Manga than making friends.” Heather’s eyes wandered to something off to the right, just out of the screen’s view. She shuddered. “There was this stuffed Naruto doll she liked to carry around with her. We teased her about it all the time. It was a childish thing to do, we kept telling her. But Naruto was her favorite show and the doll had been a gift from her dying grandmother…Needless to say she was something of an outcast among our group. So, while we were staying here, we decided to play a trick on her.”
Belinda dashed down the hall, phone still gripped tightly in her hand.
“We crafted a note from a secret admirer and left it among her things. I’ll never forget those words. ‘I’ve seen you with your Naruto doll. That’s my favorite show too. Can you bring it with you to the pool tonight at midnight? I’d love to talk more about the show and maybe learn more about you.’ We were so cruel.” Heather sniffled and wiped at her eyes, but continued. “We all hid near the pool and waited for Shelby to show up. She did several minutes later, and she waited over an hour for a boy who would never show.”
Belinda flew around the corner and proceeded down the next corridor, cursing Heather for her weakness. Why couldn’t she just leave well enough alone?
“We surrounded her like the vultures we were and teased her. She was so fat and so ugly, and that doll was so stupid. Did she really expect anyone to have a crush on her?” Heather was sobbing now and could hardly speak. “Sh-She tried to get away. We pushed her into the pool. She cried out in a panic. She couldn’t swim, but we didn’t believe her. W-We just kept laughing at her as she struggled to stay above water. She must’ve gotten a cramp or something because she descended and never came back up.”
Belinda found the right room, shoved the key card into the card reader, and elbowed the door open. The chain clinked as it drew taut, giving Belinda only a sliver’s view of the room beyond. Belinda closed the door again and threw a fist against it with a growl. “Heather! Open up. Heather?” She continued knocking and shouting until she got the attention of a passerby. He looked like a janitor what with his gray jumpsuit and cart of tools. She waved him over. “Do you have some wire cutters or something? My friend locked herself in our room. I think she’s in trouble.”
The janitor hobbled over. “What kind of trouble are we talking?”
“I don’t know!” Belinda snapped. “She’s been acting weird all day and then I got this creepy-ass text, and I’m afraid she’s going to hurt herself. Could you please just get the door open?”
The janitor hobbled over and parked his cart before the door. He shuffled through his supplies for a moment before producing a giant pair of cutters.
“Stand aside, please,” he murmured as he approached the door.
“We tried to help her, but it was too late,” Heather went on miserably. “We told the police that we found her that way. Belinda made us all swear we would never tell, and ever since then, Shelby’s spirit has been picking us off.”
“What is that?” the janitor asked, curiously eying Belinda’s phone.
She shoved it in her pocket. “Nothing.”
The janitor leaned against the door until the chain was visible. He snapped it easily and stepped back for Belinda to enter. A pair of legs dangled from the ceiling. An overturned chair lay on the floor. The janitor let out an oath. Belinda screamed. And still the video played on, broadcasting from Belinda’s pocket.
“It’s my turn to die now. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Karrie, I love you more than anything in this world, but if I don’t do this…she’ll just take me anyway. Better to die on my own terms. Belinda, if you’re watching this, she’s coming for you next. Run if you want, but there’s no place to go where she won’t find you. I guess that means I’ll be seeing you soon.”
The sound of running water drew Belinda’s eye to the bathroom. She struggled to breathe as she made eye contact with the wet Naruto doll standing by the sink…and then watched it disappear.