The Halloween Project 2021 - Story 8: Kenoza Kills
So ends Year #5 of the Halloween Project. Not quite ten stories, but many more are squirming around my brain.
Kill – (def.) – a body of water, most commonly a creek.
“No freakin’ way. I am not going in there. Not on my life. Not on your mother’s life.”
Shane and Kaitlin had just pulled in to Kenoza Ridge Resort in the deepest part of the Catskills in the maelstrom of a nor’easter. Gales of heavy rain pounded in waves. Horizontal wind rocked the car. The old hotel, imperceptible from the road, was vaguely lit by two poles lamps, one flickering abruptly. Not quite dilapidated, the building was many long steps away from adequate. Several shutters flapped or were missing. Paint chipped from the east and west sides of the house. The roof shingles needed quick replacement. In the front yard were various lawn chairs, rusted, broken, topsy turvy.
“Kait, Kait, I am so sorry. Really, it did not look like this online. There was no other place. Remember, we talked about this. Honest to god, if you want me to drive home, I will.”
“Five and half hours? Seriously. We had a great day. Hayride and pumpkin patch and corn maze and lunch and drinks and a great drive and we end up with this?” Kate protested.
“I am so sorry. What can I say? I’ll head back now,” Shane said apologetically.
“Hold on,” Kaitlin began, “It was a great day. A fantastic day. But this is weird. Here’s what we’ll do. Go inside, check in, get the room. Straight to the room. I’m not sleeping on the sheets or with the blanket on me or anything.”
Shane was desperately relieved but tried to hide it. The prospect of a five-hour drive, beginning now at 9 P.M. maybe falling asleep at the wheel after his cocktails at dinner was not something he relished. They pulled umbrellas from the back seat, grabbed their overnight bags and raced to the door. Even the short-run managed to soak them, Kaitlin’s umbrella blew inverted. The manager, an elderly woman, was polite despite their late entry. There was not front desk, simply a table. Sign in meant attaching an autograph in a worn ledger. No credit card, no license.
“You are in Room number 319. Third floor. I’m afraid we have no elevator. Old building, you know,” the woman stated. Shane looked at a doorway leading to another small vestibule. In that room, on a table were laid out dozen of out-of-style ties. Hanging on a rack were suit coats and jackets.
“This is interesting,” Shane said aloud.
“Oh, that’s my accessory room. Sometimes people come for a wedding, anniversary, maybe a birthday party or family reunion, most often a funeral. I rent these ties and coats. Fifty cents or a dollar. Kait looked at Shane and rolled her eyes behind the woman’s back.
Room #319 was on the top floor. Making their way up the stairs, the austere stillness of the place swelled stronger with each step, countering the wind outside. Bare walls echoed from high ceilings. They reached the third floor and turned down the corridor. Cheap, second hand, tag sale paintings attempted to decorate the long hallway.
“Shit, this is the Overlook Hotel,” Kait whispered to avoid more echoes.
“Much smaller, honey, much smaller,” Shane returned.
Room 319 beckoned with a brass plate above the door. They both stopped and could not move beyond staring. Next to the door was a painting.
“No way,” it was Kait. The painting was one they had in their old apartment. Fifteen or twenty white ducks crossing a country lane. “Didn’t we throw that out years ago? Could it be possible?”
“No, it’s not possible,” Shane answered, “Coincidence.”
A key, an actual key with metal shaft and bow, unlocked the door. The room was clean. Spare, decorated with table, chair and nightstands that may have been extremely popular in 1930’s gangster films.
“I’m going to lay down, now,” Kait stated. She pulled back the large comforter and placed some of her own clothes on the bed. “God, I wish we had a travel sheet and one of those machines that would make stuff glow, you know, bacteria or …stuff.”
“No you don’t,” Shane said simply.
It was going on three o’clock when the noise began. Shane started upright at the banging, heavy foot treads pounding up the stairs. Drumming on walls. It rose to the third floor and seemed to come toward them. Then the voices. Loud, demanding, floating.
“Where’s our goddamn room! What the hell!” Thumping sounded against the walls from outside their room as if someone had lost their balance and been saved from falling by the vertical surface.
“You’re drunk, you fool!” another voiced called out, angrily.
“Me drunk! What about you?! You’re drunker!” More banging, slaps against walls. Kait was awake now. Terrified she grabbed Shane’s arm. He struggled free and jumped from the bed.
“I’m going out there to tell them to shut the fuck,” Shane stated, quietly but strongly.
“No, no, no, no, no, NO! You’re not.” Kait seethed.
Shane stood at the door, holding his breath. All noise stopped abruptly. The light in the corridor seemed to cast a shadow under the door. The knob twisted slowly, once left, once right, then jangled back and forth violently. Shane jumped back, then bent at the waist and looked down, the outline of two boots framed the floor outside the door. And then it was over. No noise, no voices, no angered calls, just the wind outside.
They never slept, holding each other, waiting for more sounds. Near dawn, Kait having fallen asleep Shane got dressed and went out to the corridor. No signs of damage, no pounded walls. The storm had abated outside, but the clouds streamed like harbingers of more rain. He descended the three floors to the main room. The old woman was folding napkins at the entry table.
“Good morning,” Shane began politely, “Who were those men who came in so late last night. They caused quite a ruckus. Scared my wife to death. All that swearing and yelling and banging on the walls.”
The old woman never looked up. She folded one cloth napkin, then another, and said, “There were no guests on the third floor last night. Except for you.”
Thirty minutes later Shane was walking down the steep hill to what was once called Kenoza Lake. Not a person, dog or squirrel was about. When he reached the bottom of the road there were six dilapidated, downtrodden buildings that once might have been a community. Two looked like storefronts, one a hotel needing just another good storm to find collapse. And a few abandoned homes. Curious as ever Shane found one with a door ajar. He entered the house slowly, testing the floor. It looked as if someone had left the premises 40 years ago, dishes in the sink, pots and pans askew, molded, frayed rugs on the floor. He moved from room to room.
In the farthest bedroom an elderly man sat in an austere chair looking out a cracked window at the lake. His grey hair was in want of a haircut. Baggy jeans, actually overalls, covered a flannel shirt. His face reflected years of hard work. He turned to look at Shane.
“Hey, young man, don’t be afraid. I’m just doing the same thing you are. Exploring. Looking at the lake. Good old Kenoza. The kill that feeds the lake is just over yonder. Good place for fishing. Fly fishing, best in the entire country, but people don’t fish like they used to.”
Shane just stood motionless, looking at the man.
“Where’re you staying, cause clearly, you’re not from around here?” the man asked.
“Kenoza Ridge, up the hill,” Shane gestured as if the man didn’t know the way.
“That old barn, surprised it didn’t fall down in that nor’easter last night<” he pronounced nor’easter as if it only had one syllable.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. We had quite a commotion up there last night. Middle of the night, two drunk guys banging and shouting outside our door. Scared the crap out of us. Old lady who runs the place said that no one was on the third floor except for me and my wife. But we heard them. Hell, I saw feet outside our door.”
The old man turned his head back to the window. Some time passed. Then he said:
“Room 319,” he wasn’t asking a question, just telling a truth.
“Yes, but,” Shane started, when the man spoke again.
“Those two men. Drunk. Fishin’. Got into a stupid fight. Pushin’ and shovin’. Some said they were cousins. One punched the other and he slipped and fell. Cracked his skull, cracked it wide open. Not just blood but brains washed into the creek. The police think the other sat on the bank and finished off some more beers and a half pint of Jack Daniels. Then he took his fishing knife and cut his own throat, bled out on the bank.”
“They died right there in the kill about 25 year ago, maybe 26 about now,” he raised his hand and pointed on an angle out the window.
“They were staying at Kenoza Ridge. Room 319.”