It was a dark and stormy night. I was lying in the backseat of my dad’s car on my way to visit my grandma, who needed knee surgery in Chicago. I had been trying to get some sleep the entire twelve-hour trek, but hadn’t had much luck so far. The journey had been sunny for most of the time, but recently the weather had taken a turn for the worst. Raindrops fell, pelting against the glass making a plink, and the grey, stormy clouds suggested lightening. I stared out the window at the rain splattering everywhere. It made the beautiful countryside look dark, and grey. The rain cast an air of gloominess on everything. I snapped back to attention as my dad pulled over, suddenly. I jumped, surprised.
“Why’d you stop?” I asked as my dad slumped exhaustingly in the front seat. My dad turned around.
“Honey, it’s really raining. I don’t think it’s safe to be driving out.” My dad gestured to the approaching raincloud as a clap of thunder sounded. He pulled out his phone. “I’m going to check to see if there are any hotels nearby.” I slumped down, annoyed and waited. A minute later, my dad perked up. “Okay, I’m not getting a signal on my phone, but the map says the nearest motel is Westbrook Inn, about fifty miles away.” I groaned and laid my head on the seat.
About ten minutes later, we came across The Salt Lake Mermaid Inn. Most of the letters were burned out on the flashing sign overhead making it say The Sa ke maid Inn. It was a dark building, small with only a couple rooms but it was a motel so my dad pulled over and got out. My dad spread out the map and peered at it suspiciously.
“That’s weird. The Salt Lake Mermaid Inn isn’t located on the map.” He flipped the map over and then turned it upside down, like that would help. “Maybe it’s a newer building.” We both stared at the inn’s cracked windows and sagging roofs. “Somehow I highly doubt that,” I muttered. We proceeded to make our way through the huge double doors. The door creaked when it opened and I shivered. I coughed as dust filtered through the room. My dad followed me as I peered around the room. The room was dimly lit, by only a few oil lamps placed at the front desk. If the shadow hadn’t have coughed, I might never have noticed the man at all. When my eyes became adjusted to the light, I saw an old man of about fifty with grey hair, a black pantsuit, and a curling mustache. “Welcome to Ze Zalt Zake Mermaid Inn. We have ze perfict room available just for ze two of you.” He pronounced some of his words strangely with a faint accent making me wonder where he was from. My dad nodded pleased, peering around the room as if taking it all in.
“Perfect, Mr.…..” He trailed off questionably. The man nodded. “Mr. Adam’s zir. Come, zour room is zis way.” He started walking at a rather brisk pace toward the back. My dad glanced at me and then we scurried after him. We passed many rooms all lit by candlelight. The storm made the entire inn shake and gave the place a kind of eerie presence. Mr. Adam’s walked really fast whisking past room after room, gliding almost like a ghost. Finally, he abruptly stopped in front of a door. 13B was written on the door in curling letters. It was the only room with a number written on front, I realized. Number thirteen, I thought. How ironic. Mr. Adam’s opened the door and gestured us in. We went in and my dad and I placed our bags on the bed and turned around to thank Mr. Adam’s, except he wasn’t there. He was gone. Vanished. I narrowed my eyes, confused. How could someone vanish so quickly? It was inhumanly possible. This should have been a warning for my dad and me to get as far away from the Salt Lake Mermaid Inn as possible, but it wasn’t. My dad stared at me and shrugged.
“He must have just gone away to answer a call or something.” I nodded, but still a strange presence lingered in the air. I pushed the mysterious thoughts away and soon I was asleep.
The next morning we woke up pretty early at seven and got ready. Grandma’s surgery was at two in the afternoon and with any luck we might make it in time. We packed our few clothes and slowly stepped out of room 13B. The inn was silent and somehow something seemed different. Not a soul was in sight, and it seemed as silent as death. We made our way back to the lobby and peered around for Mr. Adams, but we couldn’t find him. We looked for him, while my dad impatiently tapped his watch.
“You know what, he’s not here. We really have got to get going. I’m just going to leave some money here.” My dad proceeded to place a crisp fifty-dollar bill on the mahogany desk next to the old fashioned telephone. We left the Salt Lake Mermaid Inn. I watched it until it disappeared in the distance.
We arrived at Grandmas on time for the surgery. Two hours later, she was out and ok. My dad was really relieved and so was I. As we sat in Grandma’s kitchen, sipping cups of mint tea, with Grandma’s knee propped up on the coffee table, Grandma stared at us in puzzlement.
“But Rick,” she said addressing my dad. “You couldn’t have made the long trek with out stopping. Where did you stay?” My dad glanced at me and then said breezily.
“Oh, don’t worry Grandma, we found a place.” My dad said, trying not to worry Grandma.
“But, honey. There’s no motels or any place to stop on the way. It’s just countryside. What do you mean you found a place?” Grandma was looking really confused now.
“Grandma, don’t worry. We found a place. A very lovely place in fact. The Salt Lake Mermaid Inn.” Granma stared at, her mouth open.
“Rick, don’t joke around with me. You’re kidding, right?” Grandma responded, incredulous. My dad shook his head, now confused too.
“Honey,” Grandma explained as if talking to a kindergartener. “The Salt Lake Mermaid Inn burned down mysteriously twenty-five years ago. It was owned by Joe Adams. The police never could find the source of the fire, or Joe’s body.” She peered at us worriedly over her spectacles.
“Mr. Adams!” My dad and I stared at each other in horror. Grandma glanced back at us.
“Rick,” she sighed. “Please tell me this is a joke. Here.” Grandma rummaged around under the coffee table and handed us a newspaper clipping. I took it and skimmed through the article. My dad looked over my shoulder. The article basically explained everything Grandma had already told us and there in the corner was a very familiar picture. Mr. Adam’s stood grinning with his curling mustache. I still don’t know if I imagined it but I could’ve sworn I saw him wink. Dad paled at the image and then stared at grandma.
“Don’t worry. It’s a joke. Hehehe.” He attempted a feeble laugh and I joined in but our heart wasn’t really in it. Grandma wasn’t kidding. Most of the people in the neighborhood knew the story of the Salt Lake Mermaid Inn, so unless the entire town was playing a joke on us, something seriously weird was going on.
On the way back home, a couple of days later, we stopped at the Salt Lake Mermaid Inn. We climbed out of the car and started toward the inn. Indeed, it was burned down. Rubble and ashes lay everywhere. The sign in the front was now completely lit out. We carefully picked our way through the rubble, not able to believe our eyes. The inn was completely burned down. Not a room remained. We came upon what resembled the long-forgotten lobby. I peered around the lobby. Everything was burned. Then I saw it. The only thing that was intact. The big mahogany desk. And on the desk lay the fifty-dollar bill, my dad had placed, untouched. I peered at it in horror. My heart was racing.
“Dad!” I called. “I think you might want to see this.” My dad hurried toward me and I stopped. Something shifted behind a caved in door and I shifted my attention toward there. The outline of a ghostly figure was barely visible, but there was no mistaking that curling mustache when the figure winked.