Years ago, when the boyfriend and I still lived in San Diego, we decided to get away for a romantic weekend in Idyllwild, a little town in the San Jacinto Mountains a couple of hours away. It was autumn, and the leaves were turning. Well, not in San Diego—palm fronds don’t offer a lot of fall color, and that’s one reason we wanted to spend a weekend in the mountains.
Neither of us had been to Idyllwild and in the pre-internet dark ages, information was not easily available. I called a central reservations number and booked a hotel room with a balcony and a kitchen. I envisioned the two of us sitting on the balcony of our charming boutique hotel room, sipping coffee in the cool air of early morning, watching the sunrise.
Early Friday evening we pulled into town and found our lodging, not a charming hotel but an exceedingly rundown motel. On a weekend that seemed extraordinarily busy, judging from traffic and filled parking lots at other hotels, our car was the only one in the lot, except for an ostentatiously expensive sports car. A sign on a door read OFFICE, and we walked in—right into someone’s living room. A large, silent family sat in a darkened room, the curtains drawn, the only light coming from the flickering TV screen.
“I’m sorry,” I said, starting to back out.
No, no—this was the office, and the Addams Family was expecting us. Our room was waiting.
We paid in cash and were given the key to Room 13.
I’m not superstitious, but like it or fear it—and actually, I’m rather fond of it—13 is one of those numbers that stands out.
Room 13 had a sharp A-frame roof and a vaulted ceiling to match—no attic, no crawlspace, nothing above us except roof. The promised balcony was the size of a postage stamp and just about as sturdy. The setting was not at all what we’d had in mind, but we’d paid in advance for the room, and we weren’t sure we’d get our money back—in fact, we weren’t sure we wouldn’t get knifed if we went back into the living room cum office—so we stayed.
When we returned to the room after dinner, it was even less inviting. Colder. Shabbier. Creepier.
Eventually, we went to sleep. Sometime in the night, I awoke to see an old woman hovering above me. She glowed, as if illuminated from within. She sat in a rocking chair. In her left hand, she held a saucer; in her right hand, a teacup. She wore a nightgown, a shawl, and a nightcap from which escaped strands of steely gray hair. Her eyebrows were heavy and black and angry. Her eyes were dark.
I closed my eyes, thinking, I don’t want to see this.
After a moment, my heart pounding, I opened my eyes—and when I did, she set her teacup in its saucer and pointed at me with a knobby right index finger.
My gasp woke up the boyfriend. I told him what I’d seen.
“It was just a dream,” he said. “Go back to sleep.”
Just a dream, my ass. That scary old bitch pointed at me.
But I lay there, afraid to look at the spot where I’d seen her—afraid to move—afraid to breathe. I lay awake the rest of the night, listening to footsteps overhead. I’d lived in a two-story house. I knew the sound of someone walking overhead. But it was impossible for anyone to have walked overhead that night, because the ceiling had the same steep A-frame as the roof—no crawlspace, no attic.
The footsteps continued for hours. At some point, the sliding glass door to the balcony shook violently, as if someone had grabbed the sides of it and was trying to rip it off its track. In the pre-dawn, something paced back and forth in front of the front door to the room; we could see the shadow passing because there was a narrow gap at the bottom of the door. Then, whatever it was roared. It sounded like a mountain lion. I hope it was a mountain lion, but our nerves were thoroughly shot by then, and it might as well have been Satan incarnate.
We got up, got dressed, and got out of there in record time. The fancy shiny sports car was gone, and so were we.