I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling.
The room is dimly lit. The wiring in this place is shoddy. Sometimes the old lamps flicker. I’m lying on my back in this, dingy queen size bed. This is my second day in this motel, I think.
Drops of rainwater fall through the crack in the ceiling. It was raining all day yesterday too. Cockroaches scramble to and fro across the wall and the place smells of damp clothes and cigarettes. The TV is still on, but I hear nothing but the white noise of static on the screen. My watch says 8 PM. I can’t believe I’ve slept all day and I have to get out of here.
I’m about to jump off the mattress and I see it – him – sitting on the edge of the bed facing the door to the room: the teddy bear. He looks like one of those brown teddy bears from the 1950s. He’s a little shabby, but has both of his button eyes. And then I remember everything. I’m stuck here. I can’t get out of this room.
It was last night I lodged here; the Lamplighter Inn, it’s called. While traveling through this hell hole of a town, Ravensbrooke. It was raining last night, non-stop and I needed sleep. I don’t remember the clerk too clearly. I think it was an elderly woman, not sure.
She gave me room 212 on the second floor, and as soon as I stepped inside, I felt a little weird. The walls are covered in dark burgundy wallpaper with a pattern of small yellow roses across. There is a framed picture of a man on the wall to the right. He’s wearing a dark yellowish suit, a bolero hat the same color, and a black tie. His skin is pasty, with a thin face. He’s smiling with a wide grin filled with many teeth. I ignore it.
There is a large chest in the far left corner of the room. After I unpacked and settled in, I walked up to it. I had to know what was inside. It could have been some creeper hiding in wait. There were tears in the black leather that covered the box and the metal frame was rusted.
I opened the lid revealing a bunch of old toys inside. Real old. Some of the metal trains and cars were rusted with scratched paint. There were smudged baby dolls with tangled hair and torn clothes. Other junk filled the box: blocks, a wooden sword, figures of knights and cowboys, things like that. The chest is where I found the bear. I felt sorry for it because of its condition (dirty and scraggly). Thought it was cute, so I took it out and set it on the table that’s next to the bed and right in front of a window.
At first, the room wasn’t filthy or dilapidated – it was actually decent. The change happened slowly over time. I noticed the peeling wallpaper first. Maybe an hour later, cracks in the ceiling were just there. I thought I just hadn’t noticed them before. Then came the leaking rain from the cracks, so I put the empty wastebasket underneath to prevent from forming a puddle on the dirty carpet.
Then I noticed the roaches. First, one crawled along the wall next to the TV. Then, another on the floor, and now they were on the walls and the ceiling. The smell of the place became damp and old. The bathroom was horrendous. The mirror had dirt smudges across the surface, the sink was filthy and the toilet didn’t flush. I didn’t bother turning on the faucet.
After I noticed these changes, I felt uncomfortable and decided to go. I began to pack my bag.
“He won’t let you leave, Grace,” said a small child-like voice.
I looked around and saw no one.
“What?” I asked, thinking I was hearing things.
No response.The voice didn’t sound like it came from inside the room, but inside my head, like a thought. But maybe someone was in the room. I checked under the bed. Nothing, but roaches.
“Who’s here?” I asked. “Who’s in the room?”
Paying no attention, I grabbed my bag and headed for the door. I opened it to view the long hallway in front of me, leading all the way down to the end. Other rooms were along each wall on both sides, doors shut, and the stairwell all the way at the end on the right.
I rushed out into the hall and as soon as I left the room I appeared to be stepping right back in. I was confused. I left out again, and yet, I ended up walking into the room from out the hall each time. It was like some sort of loop. Each time I stepped out into the hall I ended up walking right back into the room. I was losing my mind.
“I told you he wouldn’t let you go,” said the voice.
I paused, pretended I didn’t hear it, and went straight for the window. I pulled aside the curtain as rain struck the glass. The moon was out and the buildings across the street were silent, not a light on in any window. The street lamps were bright, revealing a few parked cars on the road. The sidewalks were vacant of life due to the heavy rain of course. It was like a ghost town. I saw my reflection in the glass. My long brunette hair dangled in front of my face. I looked tired.
I tried to lift the window, but it wouldn’t budge.
Noises on the wall the wall to my right. Something was happening in the room on the other side. Then the screaming started, a man’s voice. The furniture sounded as if it were falling over from a scuffle.
The loud banging on the wall would not stop. The picture of the man in drab yellow on the wall shook every time. In frustration, I gripped my hair and screamed, “Stop it!” The noises and the man’s shrieking continued. “Stop it!” I commanded once more. The man became silent and the pounding ceased. I sat on the edge of the side of the bed, my face in my palm. “Think, Grace! Think! You have to get out of here!”
The room was still. I contemplated breaking the glass, tying the sheets together fastening one end to the bed post and climbing down like in the movies.
“Not sure that would work, Grace. You can’t break the glass. Others have tried without success,” said the voice.
It was much stronger now, clearer as if close by. Looking down to my left sat the teddy bear on the bed next to me. It moved from the end table to my side. Astonished, I didn’t know what to do or say. “You’re the only one who has ever taken me out of the toy chest,” the bear communicated telepathically, as it turned its head toward me.
“Crazy. I’m going insane,” I said.
“No, you’re not,” said the bear.
“Who is doing this? How are you getting inside my head?” I said hysterically.
The television in front of the bed turned itself on. Then, channel surfed: the news, where the weatherman described the thunderstorm. Followed by a stream of channel changes, resulting in a television-haze of golf, “Friends,” wrestling, and, finally (gratefully), the static of white noise snow.
I became extremely drowsy. It was the white noise. My eyelids became heavy and I tried to stay awake.
“Just sleep, Grace. You have a big day tomorrow,” said the bear.
“How are you talking to me? You’re a freaking teddy bear,” I said, catching myself from breaking out into a hysterical laugh. Too close to the edge.
“That’s a story for another day,” said the bear. “Sleep.”
Without protest, I lay back, rested my head on the dingy pillow. Sleep opened its arms and I welcomed it, the cool reassurance offering solace behind closed eyelids. Safely tucked inside my own REM dreamscape.
But I’m awake now, after far too many hours of sleep,and I’m getting the hell out.
I rush to the window, the curtains still pulled back.
It’s still raining heavily and dark outside.
I can see my red Focus parked near the corner but still not a living soul on the street.
“I’ve been keeping watch all night and day,” said the teddy bear.
“Can you tell me how to get out of here?”
“I’m not sure. No one ever has.”
“How many people have been through this?”
“I’ve never counted, but many,”said the teddy bear.
“What happened to them?”
The front door swings open. I see it. It’s coming through the doorway of the stairwell, all the way down at the end of the hall on the right.
At the bottom of the doorway, on the floor, the brim of the yellow hat protrudes, which eventually (inch by dreaded inch) reveals a head. It’s the man in the picture. He’s coming through the door on the floor.
As his body passes through the doorway, I see the rest of his dark yellow suit. He slithers across the floor like a snake, arms stretched outward pulling himself along. His head looks normal enough, but his body is flat and long like a long piece of stretchy rubber. The long, flat torso turns left as he slithers toward my room. He slides across the floor, mouth open, teeth fully visible due to the absence of lips. His eyes are black holes with glimmers of white light in each.
I run to the door to slam it shut before he gets to the room.
I lock the door.
The pounding begins from the other side.
“The sword,” said the bear, as he sat at the front edge of the bed. “Get the sword out of the chest.”
“That thing? It’s old wood!”
I slide a chair underneath the doorknob as the Flat Man continues to hammer on it. I run to the chest, open it and shuffle through the old, abandoned toys to find the sword. It’s at the bottom. I can see it through the pile of junk.
The chair is thrust away as the door bursts open. The Flat Man slithers along the dingy, grey carpet toward me as I push aside a toy car and grab the wooden, paint-chipped hilt. I turn around, and the Flat Man rises like a cobra.
He reaches for me, and I thrust the sword into his chest, breaking through the other side. With repeated thrusts of the toy, he grimaces in pain with every piercing…the old wood is sharp and strong.
He manages to grasp my throat with his long, thin fingers.
The Flat Man is weakened, but still much stronger than me. His grip tightens around my neck.
My larynx is slowly being crushed and it hurts.
I plunge the sword through his neck as he gasps and weakens his grip on my throat.
I reach under the yellow bolero and grab hold of his stringy, black hair then with one final hack with the wooden blade at the Flat Man’s neck, the head comes off. I hold the cranium in my hand and toss it on the floor next to the toy chest. His jaw hangs open and a white light shoots forth from the neck of the body.
I drop the sword and the Flat Man’s body falls to the floor, wriggling around like a decapitated snake.
The teddy bear was standing on the bed.
“Now!” he said, the voice reverberating around my head. “Leave before he puts himself together again!”
Flat Man’s arms are flailing, searching for his head.
I grab my bag, which is already packed.
“Grace, take me with you. Please,” said the bear.
I reached for him, put him the bag and ran for the door.
“The sword! Take the sword!” the bear said.
Flat Man finds his head, holding it in one hand. I pick up the wooden sword and dash through the door out into the hall. This time, I don’t end up back into the room and continue down the stair well and out into the street.
I found my car near the corner. As I climb inside, I toss the sword and bag in the passenger seat.
“I’m out! I’m out!” I say, starting the engine.
The bear sits up in the bag and speaks to me mentally, “You’re the only one to have escaped, Grace.”
“Thank you, bear. I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for you.”
“My name is Axton, it means ‘sword wielder.'”
“What’s going on? What’s with you and the Lamplighter Inn?”
“That’s a long story. But there are others in the inn, trapped inside the rooms who can’t escape. Like the man who died in the next room.”
“That’s not my problem.”
We’re on the road now, putting some distance between us and that dreadful inn.
“Children are in there too, Grace,” the bear said. “He will kill them.”
“What am I supposed to do? I barely got out myself.”
“This place tricks strangers to this town into believing it’s just a motel. If this doesn’t end, then people will forever lodge in the Lamplighter Inn and die. There is a way to put a stop to this to save the people inside and those who come in the future. It can be done with the right help.”
I take a moment to think. And it occurs to me: I can’t let others die like the man in the room next to mine. The Flat Man is in there and I’ve got to do something.
We drive away down the street. I look back at the Lamplighter Inn and see its true visage. Broken windows cross its face and the walls are crumbling. It’s run-down and abandoned.
“What do we have to do?”
If he could have smiled, he would have in that moment, but it was all in his voice.
“We must visit the old house on the outskirts of Ravensbrooke,” said the bear.