The crisp autumn air and cloudless sky were everything the couple had hoped for, the weather a perfect mirror of the joy they shared with their closest friends and family on their wedding day. The months of planning ended in an afternoon of love and perfection. Mary was glowing in the ivory organza gown her mother had meticulously sewn by hand. Thomas was as handsome as ever, with a look of love and longing in his eye that melted her heart. They spent their wedding night in the apartment they shared, in the bed that was their own. The comforting familiarity of each other transformed into a deeper love ever since they pledged their vows.
Mary took her time in the morning, watching the cream bloom in her coffee like some kind of specter. She let Thomas sleep in while she ran errands and crossed all items off the final to-do list. Once the car was packed they were off on their honeymoon--a trip that would come to be their last.
The hours passed quickly in the car. Their voices were light with stories of their cherished moments from the reception. As they turned off the main highway and headed east, a heavy rain began to fall from the darkening sky. They ceased their conversation so he could pay attention to the road, now slick with the mixing of oil and water. By the time the rain let up the darkness of a moonless night had settled in around them. Tail lights were flashing red in the distance ahead, then disappearing around a curve.
"Look out!" Mary screamed as Thomas swerved the car quickly to the left. A dog, white with a dark mask and razor-sharp teeth stood growling in the grass. As they rounded the curve Mary saw it lunge toward the car. She felt a blood curdling terror when the fiend met her eye as if she was its prey. The ferocity of the dog scared her more than the car skidding on the wet roadway. To think of a creature that was so hate-filled it couldn't see the danger of its death skidding past. Pity was not what she felt for the animal. She hoped it would be crushed and killed soon, its anger released into the universe and its curse forgotten.
As they pulled into town, the heat of the day that baked into the pavement was melding with the aftermath of the rainstorm, creating pockets of steam rising from the ground as if the ghosts of the city were welcoming them in. They had come to Savannah for its sense of southern romance as well as its rich history of haunts. They mocked the sight and laughed at how the foreboding scene might scare away lesser travelers.
The couple reached their hotel in the heart of the city without any further incident. Thomas dutifully carried their suitcases, brand new wedding presents from his parents, through the lobby and over the seal of a pineapple mosaic in the marble floor. Their laughter filled the hollow and empty room. The young eagerness of their too loud voices alerted the old woman behind the counter to their presence. She slowly took them in. Perfect white teeth behind smiling full lips, their eyes combing over each other greedily between their laughter at the aging hotel decor.
"We were expecting you--earlier, I mean. Most guests arrive in time for the nightly wine and cheese reception from 4 to 6. It really is lovely."
The old woman felt their mockery turn towards her and Thomas stifled a laugh as he told her his name and reservation information. Mary was startled by her greeting. It was such an odd thing for the old woman to say before they even gave their names. Mary came to tell her husband later that it felt as if the old woman was waiting for them to arrive.
The couple went about their tasks of signing forms and getting local tourist information. As usual, when the old woman chose the room key from under the counter Mary inquired as to the haunting of the hotel. The old woman relayed the same stories that countless guests asked of her--Civil War soldiers roaming the halls, the lady of the hotel carrying linens in the hallways and the echo of a child’s laughter in the dead of night. The couple traded looks of excitement and skepticism. Thomas was not a believer like his wife was. They ate a late dinner and had a few drinks in the hotel restaurant and tucked in before 10 o’clock. There was a lot of fun to be had and they wanted to get a good night’s sleep after the tireless excitement of the wedding. He was lucky and slept like the dead. Driving always did that to Thomas and the comforting warmth of his wife in the bed welcomed him to repose.
The constant footsteps in the hallway kept Mary from restful sleep all night. Obscure voices echoed in the hall and more than once she glanced at her peaceful husband and wondered how he couldn't hear any of it. It was so odd that there would be so many hotel guests in November. They hadn't seen anyone else upon check-in. Mary’s tired body was no match for her uneasy mind and she finally drifted off into a fitful slumber.
The sun rose over the moss-covered trees that lined the river walk and the smell of pralines filled the air with a sweetness that scared away the ghosts of the night. The couple awoke early and made their way through the town. Beignets and coffee on the riverwalk for breakfast. Lunch at The Lady and Sons and dinner at 17Hundred90, a restaurant with a haunted history all its own.
The feel of the town had intoxicated them, bewitched them by its wild and wacky extravagance. They ended their late night with a haunted pub crawl. Part history, part frat party and everything they wanted to learn about the city that locals claimed was built on its dead. Stories of home remodelings turned into tales of crypts hidden in the walls. They had more than their fill of Savannah's favorite beverages when the tour stopped at their hotel. The tour guide, in period costume and holding a lantern, regaled them with the story of The Marshall House. The building had housed a Civil War hospital. When the basement was cleared, more than a century later, bones from hundreds of people littered the foundation. As if that was a proper bedtime story, they bid farewell to the rest of the group and headed to their room.
Sleep found them both quickly, no doubt the debaucherous activities of earlier had taken their toll. The town's living souls silenced outside their window and the couple slept deeply.
Sometime in the night Mary awoke to a chilling sensation. A firm and claustrophobic pressure was aching her chest, pushing her down deeper into the mattress. She opened her eyes to find the room empty and nothing there but the skulking feeling of something dark. Her voice welled in her throat but would not come forth. Panicked now, she tried to move, but she was paralyzed. Her awareness was complete. She could see the room and its contents clearly from where her head lay on the pillow but her body would not respond to the thoughts of movement in her mind. She began to say a sort of prayer. Wake me up. Wake me up. Wake me up. She repeated the words over and over again, hoping they would take root somewhere in Thomas’s consciousness and he would wake and save her from whatever bindings confined her. Thomas’s head felt heavy as he drifted awake. He could feel Mary’s twitching movements beside him and hear her whimpering like an animal running in a dream. After what felt like an eternity his warm hand caressed her arm and she was free. Immediately she threw the confining sheets off of her sweat-drenched body, sat up on the side of the bed and found comfort in the cool wood as she placed her feet to the floor. With her face in her hands she confided to him her fear.
"That was weird,” she gasped. “It felt like I couldn't move." Embarrassed by the frightening event she made her way to the bathroom to splash some water on her face. The liquid was cool and calming and grounded her back to reality. How silly she had been. Clearly she drank too much and let the sinister stories seep into her unconscious mind. Thomas asked if she was okay and she replied a cool yes and they drifted back to sleep, cradling each other for the last time.
In the morning, Mary awoke early to a feeling of horrible nausea. Thomas tried to nurse her with some soup and a few jokes about what a scaredy cat she was. Her eyes seemed changed, like there was an emptiness inside. Maybe she just needs rest, he thought.
"I'm gonna shower then maybe go to that used book store if that's alright with you,” he said, as usual asking her permission even though he never needed it. He was kind and knew how she liked to be in charge.
"I just need to rest a little more, then I think I'll feel better." She tried to sound assured when she told him to go ahead and have fun without her.
The hot water massaged his skin and awakened his senses. He thought about what had happened in the night. It was so unlike her to have such heinous sleep disturbances but with the stress of the wedding he could understand how one drink too many could have affected her that way.
There was an eerie change in the air as soon as he turned the water off. An ominous feeling crept under his skin. He didn't leave the bathroom door ajar and Mary certainly wouldn't have gotten out of bed to peek in on him in the shower. Thomas dried off quickly and put on the hotel robe. Its downy softness was comforting and he shook away the dark thoughts that were trying to creep into his head. He faced the foggy mirror and wiped the steam from its surface. In the clear streak Thomas saw his wife standing behind him. With the tilt of his head and a question on his lips, she wrapped her arm over his shoulder and hugged him tight.
"I'm suddenly feeling better,” she whispered into his ear. She was pressing against him with a strength that he didn't think she was capable of. His lips parted into a smile as the knife she had been holding cut deep through the skin of his neck and severed the pulsing artery that she had kissed sweetly so many times.
The mirror was awash in blood and steamed moisture, the sterile white of the hotel's bathroom a macabre scene of shock and death. Mary held him close as his life rushed out and spilled over her hands. The hands that he envisioned caressing his babies as they would draw their first breaths in this world held him as he drew his last. His eyes reached her face and looked through her to ask one final question: Why? Her reply was not needed or given--it was already too late.
The last and final thought in his mind was a memory: the first time he saw her, sitting on the brick steps waiting for a lecture to start. Her cool and confident exterior thinly veiling her young need for love and acceptance. He knew right then that he would give her what she craved until his dying breath, and he had. His warmth faded quickly and with it any remnant of humanity inside her died.
A sudden knock at the door drew Mary’s attention. Everything was moving in slow motion; she felt super aware of her body grounded to the earth. Her thoughts were clearer than ever. The life she had planned for herself now felt like the distant rumor of a stranger. Mary opened the door to find the old woman who had been waiting so patiently for a worthy successor to arrive.
"Don't worry honey, we'll clean this right up. We always do." Her gray eyes wrinkled with a seriousness that brought the widow out of her apathy. "You belong here now, with us.”
The city and its spirits had claimed Mary among its moss covered graves and the death hidden in its walls. She raised her head to meet the old woman's gaze and saw a single flicker of an emotion reflect in her ancient face. It was something between guilt, fear and relief.