It was mid-October. It was either raining or hailing or freezing cold or all three. The scenic streets of Hogan’s Gap were lined with frost and frozen puddles. As Adrienne Myers commuted to and from school in the near-polar conditions, what got her through the end of yet another long drab day was thinking about her future goals.
She was a hopeless idealist at heart, hating with passion the drudgery and routine of her predictable life as a B-average high school freshman living in this stagnant backwater of a town. Vaguely, she looked forward to a life in the South of France, somewhere close to Nature yet within walking distance of one of those picturesque towns with medieval architecture and cobblestone streets.
Her current residence was in a middle class cul-de-sac conveniently located between Seawood Elementary and the Hogan’s Gap high school. A great place for the neighborhood kids to congregate as soon as school was out, not a great place for someone whose nerves and burgeoning writing career were easily frazzled by screeching hordes of snot-nosed urchins.
Adrienne had always had soaring aspirations to be a fantasy writer, to become extremely rich and famous and able to travel around the world without parental supervision. Always, she carried with her a spiral notebook to jot down every thought, scene she witnessed or dreams she had no matter how mundane or insignificant. Sadly, her list of ideas seemed rather petty and mediocre; writing was hard work, it was even harder when you were a small-town nobody who lacked focus, experience, and good connections. Neither her parents nor her younger sibling Wendy were of any help. Mom and Dad, both successful dental hygienists, thought a career in writing seemed risky and unrealistic, while thirteen-year old Wendy was only interested in fashion and dating.
It was a Friday afternoon; Wendy was attending an “important” meeting with her school diva friends to discuss the latest fashionable tips and trends. Adrienne, meanwhile, was seated at the living room table. As usual, she was struggling to string a sentence together, the beginning of a possible story inspired by an interesting dream featuring talking mice and white horses running free across Dalisque landscapes. As she impatiently tapped her pen and ran her fingers through her stringy brown hair, her parents showed up, all dressed to go to town.
“Adrienne,” said her mother. “We’re going out to look at some secondhand stores. Could you please clean up the kitchen while we are gone?” Both her parents were huge antique fanatics; Adrienne, on the other hand couldn't care less about antiques, and thought all the antique stores around here were mostly filled with worthless crap that no one in their right mind would ever buy, although you never could tell. Sometimes there might be a few gems hidden among the junk.
“But M-o-o-o-m,” Adrienne sighed. “I won’t have any time for my new story then.”
“Your new story won’t get started with you sitting there just frittering away a Friday afternoon,” her mother pointed out. “Take your mind off writing for a change.”
“But I’m not-"
“She’s right,” her father agreed. “Give your brain a rest. Do something that doesn’t involve sitting around all day.”
“I think you need an after school job,” her mother suggested. “Something to give you some experience in the everyday world.”
Adrienne rolled her bleeding mascara eyes at the ceiling. “But menial jobs are for losers,” she grumbled.
“No, they’re not,” her father disagreed. “A lot of famous people started out doing menial jobs.”
“But I’m not one of those people,” said Adrienne through gritted teeth.
“And you’re not going to be one of those people if you don’t learn something useful,” her mother said firmly. “Look, all you have to do is clean the stove out and wash the dishes. That’s not too much effort.”
“But I’m really-"
“Good, then it’s settled. We’ll be back soon. If all the dishes are rinsed by then, I’ll help you dry then.” And with that her parents left the room.
Adrienne groaned and rolled her eyes again. It wasn’t fair!
"I’m fourteen for cryin’ out loud,” she said to herself. “I’m not a little kid anymore. Why should I be doing hard labor when I could be writing an award-winning novel!”
Even though it was a wet chilly afternoon, Adrienne decided to go into the park behind the cul-de-sac to search for inspiration.Yet try as she might, she couldn’t find anything worth writing about. After half an hour of pondering, she finally threw down her notepad, and started pacing back and forth.
“Hey, watch it!” shrilled a small hissy voice. “You nearly stepped on me!”
Bewildered, Adrienne looked down and to her surprise saw a large ermine glaring up at her with piercing black eyes.
“Sorry, so sorry,” she muttered apologetically. I can’t believe this, I’m actually talking to a weasel.
“Why are you walking back and forth like that?” the ermine asked. “You lose something? Your brain, perhaps?”
“No, my inspiration,” answered Adrienne stiffly. “I got a severe case of writer’s block.” What a rude little beast, sort of like Charlene Warze.
Charlene Warze was a rich and snobby tenth-grader who always spoke to Adrienne in an arrogant and condescending manner. None of the other clique girls really liked her. Well, they didn’t exactly like Adrienne that much either, but they found her company tolerable compared to that venomous troll Charlene.
“Writer’s block, ehh?’ the ermine said thoughtfully. “You should try the Wadsworth Inn. It’s full of interesting things to write about.”
“What sort of things?” asked Adrienne, rather skeptically.
“Oh, wondrous things of every imaginative type, enough to satisfy your every whim,” the ermine replied brightly. “Enough to get that dried up creative fountainhead of yours flowing once again.”
“Is this place very far from here?” Adrienne wondered.
“Not far at all,” the ermine replied. "Just across those woods with the train tracks."
“I don’t know,” said Adrienne uncertainly. “That place is a No-Go Zone for us townies, plus my parents and kid sister are going to be home pretty soon.”
“Suit yourself,” said the ermine, turning away. “If you don’t want any help with your creative writing, that’s fine by me. I’ll just go find more promising candidate for this adventure.”
“Wait!” Adrienne shouted, scooping up her notepad. "I want to come! I really do. But only for a few minutes."
“Good,” said the ermine, its mouth curling into a wide smile. “You won’t regret it one bit. I promise.”
So off they went, the ermine leading the way and Adrienne trying to keep up. After walking for some time along a path overgrown with scratchy brambles and sword ferns, they finally came to a gap in the trees. Ahead of them was a large gorgeous house surrounded by velvety green lawns and neat flowerbeds.
“Is that it?” said Adrienne, staring in disbelief.
Bewildered, Adrienne shook her head as she walked out of the tangled forest.
“It looks more like a mansion than a simple inn,” she remarked.
“Not all inns are simple,” informed the ermine.
“So all I have to do is knock on the door?” muttered Adrienne, nervously surveying the garden.
“Yes, all you have to do is knock.”
“What if they don’t like the way I’m dressed,” said Adrienne faintly, glancing down at her floppy black bellbottoms and oversized striped sweatshirt.
The ermine sighed. “Look,” it said firmly. “There’s a woman who owns the place called Nellie Mairim, and she’s expecting you. Not only can she give you the very best food and hospitality you can find, but she also knows the answers to all your problems.”
“Sort of like an oracle?” said Adrienne.
“Better,” answered the ermine.
“And all I have to do is knock on the door, and she’ll let me in.”
“You got it.”
Adrienne started walking toward the house, but then she looked back.
“Hey, aren’t you coming?” she asked.
“Can’t,” the ermine replied. “I’m awfully busy.”
“Well, okay then,” said Adrienne brightly. “Thanks for guiding me here. Maybe I’ll see you again. So long.”
The ermine watched her as she walked up slowly up the brick walk leading to the front porch.
“No,” it said with a mirthless laugh. “You won’t be seeing me at all.”
Then it ran back into the trees, and with every step it took, it grew a little bigger and a little less furry. Its limbs lengthened and so did its stride. Its body straightened and changed. By the time it stumbled out of the shrubbery behind Adrienne’s house, the last traces of white fur had vanished from its scrawny human form. Looking up at the gray autumn sky, it let out a triumphant shriek that sent the pigeons flapping from the trees overhead.
“I’m free!” shouted an exact twin of Adrienne.
While the ermine was shifting its shape, Adrienne had just climbed the porch steps and was now knocking on the front door.
“Good afternoon,” said a pale, dark-haired woman who answered the door. “You must be Adrienne.”
Startled, Adrienne leaped back, nearly falling off the front porch.
“And you must be Nellie Mairin,” she said tentatively. "Am I right?”
“Yes, I am,” the woman replied cheerfully. "Please, call me Nell. It’s much better-sounding than Nellie or Miss Mairin.”
“Okay,” said Adrienne meekly. She hesitated for a moment. “Ehh… I’m here because this weasel told me you could help with my writer’s block.”
“Oh, yes, Natasha mentioned you to me,” said Nell. “I hope she wasn’t too rude when she brought you over here.”
“She wasn’t,” murmured Adrienne with a shrug.
“Well, come on,” said Nell, standing aside and holding open the door, “and I’ll try to help you with your writing.”
She led Adrienne inside, and then prepared a splendid lunch for her. After Adrienne had finished eating, Nell led her to an upstairs study on the third floor. It was a fine and spacious room with large round windows. A black lacquered writing desk adorned with inlaid dragons of Mother-of-Pearl sat facing one window.
“This desk was used by many famous writers and poets during their stays here,” Nell explained. “Over the years, some of their life essences have seeped into the wood.”
"So what do I do exactly?” asked Adrienne. "Brush the wood and hope some of this essence-stuff rubs off?”
“Just sit down and write,” Nell replied. "Write down anything that comes to mind. It helps the inspiration more if you use that inkstand and dragon quill pen. You can stay here as long as you want.”
“Thanks, but I can’t stay long,” said Adrienne.
“You do whatever you wish,” Nell replied before walking out.
Adrienne sat down at the desk, and within thirty minutes had filled up the first five pages of her notebook. She wrote fast, flicking tiny droplets of ink over herself as well as the paper.
“This is incredible,” she muttered to herself. “I’m actually getting something done.”
Time crept by, and Adrienne had just completed several short stories, including a really scary one. She was scribbling away on the very last page when she happened to glance up. Through the window, she saw the last glimmer of sunlight fading before the rapidly growing dark.
Swearing, Adrienne snatched up her notebook and stumbled out of her chair. Having become too absorbed in her work, she had forgotten about the time. Her parents were probably having hysterics by now, and the police were probably out scouring the woods, as well as the surrounding countryside.
Adrienne staggered and lurched to the door. She was so stiff from sitting for so long that it took awhile to regain her coordination. Opening the door quietly, she stepped out into the dimly lit hall. As she tiptoed toward the stairs, Adrienne wondered why Nell didn’t come tell her that it was getting late and she needed to go home. Maybe the innkeeper became distracted with the arrival of some new guests. Maybe in all the hustle and bustle she had completely forgotten about Adrienne. That would definitely explain it.
It was really quiet. The only sound she could hear was the rustle of her feet against the carpeted floor, but somehow she got the nagging feeling that she was being followed. Looking over her shoulder, she saw to her dismay that she was being followed after all. They were coming out of the rooms on both sides of the hall—sharp-nosed people with feathery hair and bright yellow catlike eyes.
Adrienne quickened her pace with growing alarm. Then she heard chittering sounds directly above her head. Looking up, she saw a rippling swarm of ermine scurrying upside down on the ceiling. They seemed to glow in the dark, and their gleaming red eyes seemed to burn like coals in a blast furnace.
With a burst of energy, Adrienne plunged toward the stairs. As she was rushing downstairs, she happened to glance over at a mirror hanging on the wall. A chill ran down her back. The mirror reflected her face—and someone else’s.
It was the most ghastly face she had ever seen. The slimy green skin was drawn tightly over narrow bony features. Thin, fish-pale lips formed a wide grin over long gleaming teeth. The eyes were wide, piercing, and of a luminescent green, and in place of hair was a wriggling mass of grayish-pink tentacles with toothless mouths.
With a shrill scream, Adrienne ran down the stairs and into the front entryway where she crashed right into Nell.
Nell dropped to her knees and gave her a comforting hug.
“What’s going on? What happened? I thought you left hours ago!”
“I saw… saw strange things,” stammered Adrienne, tears running down her face.
“What did you see?” asked Nell gently.
“Ah,” said Adrienne, trembling all over. “I saw weird beaky-nosed people with eyes like cats'.”
“Oh, those are just some of the guests from Boulderville,” said Nell with a blasé wave of her hand. “They’re really harmless.”
“Then I saw a bunch of white weasels running along the ceiling!” gasped Adrienne.
Nell gave her a reassuring smile. “Those are just some of my servants. Nothing to worry about.”
“But… but the worst thing of all I saw in the mirror above the stairs.”
“Nell’s eyes narrowed slightly. “And what did you see in the mirror?”
“I… I… saw a rotting green man!” Adrienne croaked out. “He had eels instead of hair!”
Suddenly she froze. She stared as the greenish patches started appearing all over Nell’s face and hands. Stared as Nell’s lips pulled back into a maniacal grin, showing teeth as sharp as saw blades.
“Ah ha,” the Nell-thing said, its voice growing deep and metallic sounding. “So you’ve seen a Garkain’s true face. Well, allow me to introduce myself then. I’m Allien Mierin, dweller of the dark and lonely places, snarer and swallower of souls, devourer of the unwary… and the innocent.”
Terrified, Adrienne tried to run, but she couldn’t break free of those bony arms and the nest of snaky locks. Within seconds, all that remained of her was a limp dried husk and a ragged notebook, in which the Garkain finished with the appropriate words:
Her mother sipped her herbal tea. It was cold, but she sipped it anyway to make sure her hand was still functioning properly.
Her father whistled in awe. “Wow, that’s a great story, really creepy. You should write it down before you forget it.”
“I already have,” Adrienne replied as she forked up the last of her grilled steak and fluffy mashed potatoes. “I think I’ll either call this one ‘The Inn of Shadow’ or ‘The One Who Waits.’”
Oh gods! Wendy felt her face blushing beet-red. I should never have invited Brittany and the rest of the Fashion Bunch over for dinner! Now they’re going to be totally freaked by my geeky emo sister’s so weird stories! Ooh! This is so embarrassing! I’ll have to hide in my room and not talk to anyone for the rest of my life!
Brittany Lambert, the self-appointed club president/tyrant/queen bee of Fashion Club Chic, stared at Wendy for a long while. An expression of deep puzzlement flickered over her dark sullen eyes.
"Gee, Wendy,” the brunette said in her usual haughty monotone, “not only can your big sister cook a four-star dinner, she can also tell some good scary stories way better than one done by any Hollywood screenwriter.”
Wendy looked startled. “You think so?”
“Totally,” the club secretary Jodie Lang replied in her nasally drone.
“I quite agree,” chirped the club’s vice president Sandi Blumford. “That story deserves first prize.”
“Is it real?” the skittish and extremely insecure Ashley Wells asked.
Brittany stared coldly at the pigtailed redhead.
“Uh, hul-looo,” she said sharply. “Earth to Ashley. It’s all make-believe, like those Internet stories about the Slender Man, Jeff the Killer and those cursed bootleg Pokémon games. If that Garkain story was real, Adrienne wouldn’t be here talking to us right now.”
“Plus if there really was a Garkain hanging around here eating people, it would have been in all the papers by now,” Sandi added promptly.
“I don’t think you’ll find too many monster stories in the local papers,” said Adrienne’s father, stretching lazily. "Great meal. Never thought that Adrienne had any interest in cooking."
“Maybe because the witnesses tend to get eaten,” Sandi suggested.
“Well, I still think it’s real,” Ashley muttered, shivering slightly. “Maybe we should all just skip dessert and go straight home.”
Brittany looked sneeringly at her quaking minion. “What is the matter, Ashley? You’re afraid of the boogeyman now?”
“No, I’m… I’m… not!” Ashley stammered, looking shyly at the floor “I just don’t like hanging around right after a scary story just been told. Something always bad happens… just like in the horror movies.”
“You’re such a total scaredy-cat,” Brittany informed.
Jodie nodded slowly. “Tol-tal-lee,” she drawled.
“I know,” squeaked Ashley, her freckled face flushing red with embarrassment.
The one now called Adrienne suppressed a smirk. Don’t worry, Ashley, she thought smugly. The Garkain won’t get you…not after he had his fill of loser.
Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart