Authors: JenJess

Hosted by VendrediAntiques.com

1: Too Far

"I don't think we can make this drive tonight, Ryan. We have another 300 miles to go, and we're both having trouble keeping our eyes open."

Ryan glanced at her, then shifted his gaze back to the road, "You're right. Next chance we get, we'll stop for the night."

She yawned, "That sounds good."

Micki was jostled awake a while, and opened her eyes to see Ryan pulling into a small parking lot outside a cozy-looking 2-story hotel. He smiled at her, "Have a good nap?"

She nodded, "I did, thanks..." She stretched as he parked the car, and they both got out. The night air was cool and damp, and she felt refreshed as they walked into the lobby.

She walked up to the front desk, where an older lady, dressed in a floral dress, was knitting. She looked up at the two, "We only have one room left, so if you two aren't married, you'll have to go somewhere else..."

Micki glanced back at the sound of Ryan coming in the door, carrying their overnight bags. Seeing the exhaustion on his face, she turned back to the old lady, "We're married."

"Wonderful, Dear." The old lady stood, "You'll be staying just one night?"

Micki nodded, "Just one."

The lady handed Micki a pen, and indicated the guest book, "It's $65, we take cash or check."

Micki signed the guest book, Ryan and Michelle Foster, and got out her checkbook. Ryan stood by her side, and flashed the old lady an embarrassed smile, "I never remember my checkbook."

"My husband was the same way." She took the check Micki handed her, and put it in the cash-box in the desk drawer, "You're in Room 4, up the stairs to the right. I'm Fran, and I'll be going to bed in a few minutes. My room is right behind me, here, let me know if you need anything." She paused, "You folks hungry? I have stew left-over from dinner, if you want any."

Micki and Ryan both declined, and found their way upstairs to the room. Micki found the light-switch, and looked around. The room was comfortably decorated, with a full-sized bed, two bed-side tables, a small desk, and a wardrobe against the wall. There was a window looking to the east, and Micki looked out while Ryan set down the bags. She could see the road they had driven down only a few minutes ago, and thought for a moment about driving back home, to Chicago, on it a few days from now.

Ryan interrupted her reverie, standing beside her, "I love this kind of area - the forest all around it - it's so relaxing. And the smell..."

She looked at him, "The smell indeed! Why don't you go shower first?"

He smiled, nodding, "So I need a shower? Sure. I won't be long."

She heard him unzip his bag, and get his clothes out. The the door to the bathroom shut, and she was alone in the quiet room.

2: The Room

Micki opened the window, and a cool breeze came in through the screen. She smiled, relaxing, and walked to the bed, pulling back the blankets.

This wasn't the first time they had to share a bed, and she wasn't worried about that. But it was the first time she had to lie about them being married to get into the room. She hadn't wanted to lie to Fran, but she and Ryan were just too tired to drive any more tonight.

She lay back, closing her eyes, and was awakened when Ryan opened the bathroom door, light flooding the softly lit room. He stumbled out of the bathroom, wearing boxers and an old Spidey t-shirt. He smiled when he saw her watching him, rubbing the towel over his hair to dry it, "It's all yours. I left the shower running for you."

She sat up, rubbing her eyes, "Thanks. I don't know how you can still be awake, I'm having trouble just keeping my eyes open."

"I drank that Thermos-full of coffee, remember?"

She nodded, "That's right, you did." She gathered her clothing from her overnight bag, made her way into the bathroom, and shut the door. The hot water felt wonderful, and she spent a long time languishing in its comforting stream.

Emerging relaxed and sleepy, she crawled into bed. She hated sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings, and was secretly glad Ryan was so close beside her. He was snoring softly, and she curled up beside him, drifting into the deep sleep that had been lapping at her consciousness for hours now.

3: Calling

Micki awoke slowly, groggy and disoriented.

"Micki, are you awake?" Ryan whispered.

"I am now," she answered, "What is it?"

"I heard something," he answered. His hand rested on her arm, and his eyes scanned the moon-lit room.

She heard it, too, now that she was awake. It was a soft murmuring, like voices in the distance. "Maybe it's the other guests."

"I don't think so," he answered. He sat up, and looked around. He oriented on the window, and swung his legs out of bed, crouching down on the floor and creeping to the window, out of sight below its sill. He listened, and shook his head, creeping back to Micki's side, "I can't understand any of it, but it's definitely coming from outside."

Micki shivered, "I don't like it."

"I don't either. What do we do?"

"What time is it?"

He looked at the bedside clock, but its digital face was dark. The power was out. Looking back toward the window, he spoke quietly, "By the moon, I'd guess about 3."

Micki sat up, her white nightie slipping down her shoulder. She pulled it back up, and swung her feet out of bed. Her overnight bag, with her clothes from the day piled on top of it, sat by the side of the bed. She reached down and grabbed her jeans, slipping them on as Ryan peeked out the window.

Ryan turned, speaking as she pulled her sweater over her head, "I think it's calling to us...listen, don't you hear our names?"

Micki crept close beside him, listening at the window, "You're right, it's calling us."

Ryan risked another peek over the window-sill again, "I think there's a fire out there. A camp fire, maybe. Listen...Michelle Foster...Ryan Foster...Michelle Foster...Ryan Foster..."

Micki's eyes narrowed, "That's how I signed the register."

"Yeah, it is. I've gotta go check it out..."

Micki grabbed his arm, "No. It wants us to come to it. We have to stay away."

Ryan nodded, "You're right. But...what is it? We need to find out what's going on."

Micki held up a finger, listening, and spoke softly, "Did you remember to pack the binoculars?"

Ryan nodded, "I did. I'll get them from the car."

"I'll come with you."

4: The Forest

Ryan and Micki crept into the forest, listening to the ever-closer voices that called to them. They each held a flashlight, unlit, and Ryan had the binoculars hung around his neck.

They stopped at the edge of a clearing, and Ryan looked through the binoculars, "That campfire is calling to us."

"How? It can't speak. It has no larynx."

Ryan shrugged, "We've seen stranger things."

"We have. There has to be a person behind it. What do they want with us, and what are they using?"

Micki shook her head, "Let's go back to the hotel, and call Jack. Maybe something was sold to someone in this area..."

Ryan nodded, "Good idea."

They got back to the hotel room without incident, and Micki picked up the phone to call Jack, while Ryan watched the forest through the sheer lace curtains. After about a minute, Micki hung up, "He's not answering."

"He's probably out with Rashid or something. Well, whatever it is, it's after us, so we're going to have to figure it out without him. It's calling to us, by the wrong names, so it must be from the register."

"It's gotta be Fran. She insisted we be married to get a room."

Ryan nodded, "It must be her. Maybe she's in her room, waiting for something to happen..."

"Let's go find out."

A few minutes later, they both stood listening outside Fran's door. "I don't hear anything..."

"Let's go look in her window," Micki suggested.

Ryan hesitated, "Good idea."

But, looking in her window, all they could see was darkness. Ryan stood scratching his head, "Maybe she's not in there."

There was no answer, and he looked around. Micki was walking into the forest, and Ryan rushed after her, "Micki! Where are you going?"

She turned to look at him, "It's calling me, Ryan, I have to go..."

Ryan grabbed her arm, "Micki, no! You know you shouldn't...you can't!"

She pulled away, her expression distant, "I have to."

Ryan put his arm around her tiny waist, holding onto her tightly, "Come on, Micki, let's go back to our room."

She allowed herself to be led back to the hotel, up the stairs to the room, and Ryan shut and locked the door. She watched out the window distantly, and Ryan closed it. Almost immediately, Micki's eyes lost their dazed look, and she shook her head, "That was weird. It was calling to me, and I couldn't resist it..."

5: Dilemma

Ryan watched Micki carefully, "It's getting stronger, then...we have to stop it. The fire! I'll put out the fire, maybe that will stop it. The fire's the thing that's calling to us, right?"

Micki shook her head, "I don't know, Ryan...maybe it's not really the fire, maybe it's something in the fire, or something that's causing the fire...you'll have to get so close to put it out."

Ryan ran his fingers through his hair, and sat on the bed beside Micki, thinking, "I wish Jack had answered the phone."

"But he didn't, so we have to think this through on our own." Micki sighed, "I bet for whatever the thing is to work, the people have to be a couple."

Ryan nodded, "Reasonable. What do we do about it?"

"I don't know, Ryan! But we have to do something."

"Not we. I have to do something. It knows your name. You stay here." He paused, "But if you stay here, I can't look after you."

"That's okay. Lock me in, I'll be fine."

Ryan hesitated, "I don't know, Micki..."

Micki pulled up the sleeves of her sweater, "I'll be fine, I promise. Go investigate, see what you can learn."

Ryan scratched his head, thinking, "Okay. Okay, I'll go, but I'll be back in 15 minutes."

And so, eight minutes later, Ryan found himself standing by the camp-fire in the woods, spraying at its base with the fire-extinguisher. It didn't even flicker.

He started shoveling dirt onto the fire with his hands, but nothing happened. All the while, he could hear it calling to him, Ryan Foster.

It was getting louder, more insistent. Ryan picked up his fire extinguisher and went back to the room, where he found Micki pacing, "I can hear it, Ryan, it's calling me, and it's getting harder to resist."

Ryan looked at her for a long moment, "I can't put the fire out. Nothing touches it."


"Nothing. I don't know what to do."

Micki started pacing again, "What are we going to do?"

Ryan sat at the desk, and thought for a minute, "We have to find the person behind it."

6: The Source

Ryan pounded on Fran's door, "Fran! Fran!"

The door opened almost a minute later, and Ryan rushed into the room to meet her, "My wife's missing!"

Fran's eyes widened, "Missing? When did you last see her? Maybe she went out to your car..."

Ryan shook his head, "I woke up about half-an-hour ago, and thought she'd just gone to the bathroom. I woke up again about ten minutes ago, and went to check on her. She's not in there. I checked the car, the lobby...Fran, what do I do?"

Fran looked genuinely worried, and Ryan was impressed by her acting skill, "We have to start looking for her. You go call the police, and I'll check around the hotel."

Ryan grabbed her arm, "I'll come with you!"

She hesitated, and agreed, "Okay, but if we don't find her, we have to call the police."

Ryan nodded, "Fine, just hurry!"

Fran led Ryan around the ground floor, through the kitchen, the lobby, and the small dining room. They even looked in the storm cellar - but there was no Micki.

Meanwhile, Micki searched Fran's room decisively, with a quick thoroughness that came with practice. Hearing them returning, she slipped out the window, closing it just as she heard the two of them stop at the front desk.

Ryan stood anxiously with Fran, "Oh, Micki...where could she have gone?"

Fran's jaw set, "Let's go wake the other guests."

Ryan looked at her, surprised, "What?"

"The other guests. There was a couple that checked in earlier tonight, much earlier than you and your lady, I was mighty suspicious of. We'll check their room first, room 3."

Ryan looked out the windows, seeing a light rain falling in the pale porch-light. Micki said she would signal him through the window if she had found anything, so he decided quickly that seeing the other guest rooms would help, and give Micki a chance to search the reception desk. He caught up with Fran half-way up the stairs.

She pounded on the door to room 3. "Just a minute!" a frantic male voice called out. After waiting only about 30 seconds, used her master-key to open the door. As the door swung open, Ryan saw them standing by the window, watching the forest. Ryan could faintly see the fire from his vantage point by the door.

7: Fire

Fran barged into the room, walking to the closet, "We're looking for a missing guest..."

She swung open the closet, and of course found nothing. Ryan walked to the window, surprised at the accuracy of Fran's instincts - these people must have the object. He looked both people over, seeing an irregularly shaped metal tube in the woman's hand. He tried to snatch it away, but she held tightly to it. Struggling with her, he felt the man grasp his shoulders, "What are you doing to my wife?"

Fran came over to try to break it up, and Ryan heard her voice, "Isn't that your wife out there, Ryan?"

Ryan, surprised, looked up, out the window, and lost his grasp on the cylinder, "Micki!"

The man and woman bolted, and Ryan chased after them, Fran following behind. Ryan chased them down the stairs, out the door, and into the woods, but couldn't catch up. They entered the clearing in time to see Micki reaching into the fire.

Ryan kept running, tackling Micki head-long to keep her from being burned. Micki screamed, "Let me go, Ryan, I need it! I need the cleansing fire!"

Ryan saw Fran enter the clearing, and yelled to her, "Take it! Take that thing she's got in her hand!"

Fran obediently did, yanking the object away from the woman. Immediately, rain poured from the heavens, quenching the fire. The woman screamed, her eyes shutting tight in pain, she began to wash away. The man held onto her tightly, trying to cover her with his body, "Ethel! No!"

8: Rain

Ryan rubbed his index finger along the rough outside of the waterproof match case, "So Larry was taking his chances, killing couples up and down the highways of America, in order to have more time with his wife."

Jack picked the small, cylindrical tube from Ryan's hand, "It would appear that way. You two are lucky you survived."

Micki shook her head, "How are the police explaining it?"

"Larry will be spending the rest of his life in jail for the murders, and they're saying that his wife was the victim of spontaneous human combustion, then her ashes washed away in the rain."

"Micki said she needed to be cleansed in the fire..."

Jack opened the match case, looking at the matches inside, "What I've been able to piece together from the tabloids and other newspapers, Ethel had an affair, and it drove him crazy that he couldn't trust her any more. He killed her, I believe, before the first murder, maybe even trying to burn her body using matches from this case.

"Larry went on his killing spree, burning his victims, in order to cleanse their souls - each set of victims was a couple, in essence burning himself and his wife each time in order to cleanse them of their sins - her of her wandering lust, and him of his murder. Each so-called cleansing only gave the a few days of happiness together before things would fall apart."

Micki was quietly contemplative, "What about Fran?"

"A woman you were lucky enough to get on your side," Jack set the match case on a shelf, and started to close up the Vault.

Ryan gave a little shiver, "I would never have been able to save you without her help."

Micki smiled, "We were really lucky she was there."

Picture of Waterproof Antique Match Case