Ichor Falls

Curious Little Thing

by on Oct.31, 2008, under By Kris Straub

I have an odd habit a friend recently picked up on, a habit I developed about a year ago. He noticed that when I enter a room, any room, and shut the door, I turn my face away from it and close my eyes until I hear the lock click. Only after the door is fully closed will I open them. He gave me a hard time about it until I told him where it started.

I work for a water-seal company in St. Paul. We produce sealant for exposed wood — decks, boats, that kind of thing. You hear about sealant being a dirty word in the Ashland-Ichor Falls-Ironton area, but not all those companies were part of the infamous “Ethylor summer” that wiped out the local economy in the ’50s. I got sent to an industrial park outside of Ichor Falls on business.

I checked into this dismal hotel, the Hotel Umbra, that looked like the decor hadn’t been changed since 1930. The lobby wallpaper had gone yellow from decades of cigarette smoke, and everything had a fine layer of dust, including the old man behind the front desk. I hoped that the room would be in better shape. Mine was on the fourth floor.

Being an old place, the hotel had a rickety cable elevator, the kind with the double sets of doors: one of those flexing metal gates, and a solid outer pair of doors. I shut the gate and latched it, and pressed the tiny black button for my floor.

Just as the outer elevator doors were about to close, I was startled by the face of a young woman rushing at the gap between them. She was too late; the doors shut, and after a moment the elevator ascended.

I thought nothing of it, until I needed to take the elevator back down for one of my bags. I entered, pushed the button for the lobby, and pressed my tired back to the elevator wall opposite the doors. They had nearly completely shut when again I was surprised by a woman’s face moving towards the gap, staring into the elevator through the gate, too late to place her hand in to stop the doors from closing. This time I sprang forward and held the “Door Open” button, and after a moment the doors lurched and slid open.

I waited a moment. From the opening I could see partly down the hallway: no one in sight. Still holding the button down, I slid open the metal gate and craned my head into the hallway to look down the other direction.

No one. No trace of the girl, no recently shut hotel room door, no footsteps, no jingle of keys.

I released the button, but did not lean back against the wall. I stood directly in front of where the gap in the doors would be, in the center of the elevator. After a pause, the outer doors again began to slide shut, to move towards each other until the space between them was the width of a young girl’s face.

In that quarter-second several fingertips appeared, followed immediately by her face again, rushing from around the corner, staring at me as the doors met. I had been watching the gap where I thought she might be, so I saw her — she was about thirteen years old, and very plain, almost homely, with a pale complexion and neck-length dark brown hair that looked mussed or slightly dirty.

I didn’t have time to glance down at her visible shoulder, to see what she was wearing; from her behavior I wondered if she was a runaway or a homeless person who had gotten into the building. She had had a glassy, blank expression, tinged with a little desperation, some distant desire or need. A look that could easily be accompanied by the words “Please help.”

The next time I passed the front desk, I asked the old man if he’d seen a young girl running through.

“Heard the stories, then,” he said between throat-clearings, rocking gently in his seat. “Young Maddy has been here a long time. Takes a liking to gentlemen guests. Always been shy. Never says a word, not a word. Just curious.”

I told him I hadn’t heard any stories, and that there had been a girl taking the stairs and standing in front of my elevator on every floor.

“That’s our Maddy,” he said. “She likes you then. Sweet on you. She just wants to see, that’s all, just to see. All she ever does. Curious little thing. Just wants to see.”

I stayed at the Hotel Umbra for three nights. It was a four-night business trip; the last night I tried sleeping in my car. It didn’t help.

Let me tell you about Young Maddy. You only catch glimpses of her, of a face with a resigned look of quiet desperation, dominated by a pair of wide, dark eyes. Locked doors, barricades, nothing made a difference; she gets inside. I never saw her longer than half a second. Every time I laid eyes on her she retreated instantly, only to appear again an hour or two later. An hour or two if I was lucky.

Let me tell you about where I saw Young Maddy.

Every time I shut the door to my bathroom, in my hotel room, I saw her. If I watched as I shut it, at the last possible second I’d see the crescent of her face moving fast at the gap. I’d throw the door open to find nothing.

Every time I closed the closet door I saw her. If I watched that gap, she’d suddenly be inside the closet, leaning her head to watch me just as it shut. It’s as if she knew where to go, where to be, so that my eye would meet hers. But there was never an impact, never a moment when she’d make contact with the door or the wall.

The first time I sat at that writing table I saw her. As I closed the large bottom drawer. She rushed at the gap from inside the drawer, her wide eyes pleading for something I could not give. I pulled the drawer from its rails and threw it to the floor.

I did spend that last night in my car, but like I said, it did no good. Tossing and turning on that rental car seat, the back ratcheted as flat as I could get it, I’d have to open my eyes sometimes, and if there was a place for her to dart from my view when I opened them, she did. In the side-view mirror, or peeking over the hood of my car — once upside-down, at the top of the windshield, as if she was on the roof.

I’m back in St. Paul again, and I’ve been back for a year. But Maddy hasn’t stopped. If I keep my eyes open long enough, if I watch a place long enough, I’ll eventually catch sight of movement — near the copier in my office, a pile of boxes in an alley, a column in a quiet parking lot — and my eye will get there just in time to see her eye retreating from view. There’s never anything there when I go to look, so I’ve stopped looking.

That’s how I’ve had to change things since the Hotel Umbra. I’ve stopped looking. I keep my eyes shut when I close doors, when I shut drawers and cabinets, fridges, coolers, the trunk of my car. Not all spaces. Just ones that are big enough.

At least, that used to work. I was getting ready for bed a few nights ago, standing in front of my bathroom mirror, door shut, cabinets shut. Watching myself floss. I opened up wide to get my molars.

I swear I saw fingertips retreat down the back of my throat.

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53 comments for this entry:
  1. E

    GREAT stuff, Kris! As with anything else I’ve seen you do, you’re tha man! Keep it up, bro!

    Erik
    Houston, TX

  2. IncredibleGeek

    Excellent story. You’re quite the prolific writer, Kris!

  3. darkmayo

    Once again amazing stuff.

    While I love Starslip and especially Chainsaw Suit its these horror writings that I am impressed the most. I look forward to reading more and likely adding a story or two myself.

  4. Chris

    Damn it Kris, you should not be allowed to be good at so many things. Comedy, music, now horror writing? And you seem to be a half way decent voice actor in some of the podcasts. Leave some skills for the rest of us to be good at, stop dominating all forms of entertainment!

  5. Alun the Bard

    Kris, I’ll come out and say it. You’re the best horror writer I’ve ever read. I haven’t been able to floss since I read this.

    This story is genuinely frightening, and I mean that in the fullest sense of the word. If you ever hear that someone stabbed his eyes out and spent the rest of his life screaming, you’ll know who it is.

    With you being the hardest working man in webcomics, I’m surprised it’s taken me until a month ago to get into your work. It was long, long overdue. Here’s to many more months of scaring myself incredulous, and still living to tell the tale.

  6. Dublin Jack

    Countless horror stories tell of spirits that are violent, chaotic, malevolent; they try to destroy your body. Little Maddy is a hundred times worse, destroying your privacy, gnawing at your rationality. That final twist, that his body could be in jeopardy as well, was a masterstroke. It’s that last crushing blow of helplessness to our nameless victim. Well done, Mr. Straub.
    Big fan of Starslip and F Chords, by the way. They belie your artistic diversity, much like this very site.

  7. mags

    You are a very effective creepy man!

    Seriously, your horror is always great.
    :)

    mags

  8. blade

    This is the best story on the site. Genuinely, pervasively unsettling.

  9. Xavier Brentwood

    Kris, this reminds me of some of the best of Bradbury’s horror. Plausible, building on actions we all take every day and yet, when considered – utterly mind-scarring.

    This whole concept is so terrifying, and so well executed. Same with “Lemon Blossom Girl.”

    “…what a pretty name…” AUGH!

    Bravo!

  10. A.D.

    That is so creepy. I loved the ending.

  11. Abby

    Take your perverse horrors out of my home, man.

    This is enough to make even me worry as I close the doors. I should make my more superstitious roommates read it.

  12. A Person

    I will never close a door again.

  13. Jurd

    I’m being completely honest when I say that’s the first thing that I’ve ever read that gave me chills.

    Bravo Kris, you’ve utterly terrified me.

  14. Dean

    Honestly, that was an utterly horrifying story. So wonderfully written, so plausible yet illogical. I love it, I will definitely be back for more of your writing.

  15. Shna

    Creepiest thing ever. Excellent writing, thanks for the nightmares. :)

  16. Daniel

    So, actually got my heart pumping there. I’m a veteran of horror stories and got through Bioshock without flinching, so yeah, impressive.

  17. Robin

    That’s…terrifying.

    I’m going to think of this alot now :(

  18. Andrew

    Wow, The entire time of that story every hair on my body was standing on end. It was straight crazy. Best short fiction that I’ve read in a long time. Bravo my good person!

  19. raheel

    i regret stumbling across this. now im too paranoid to look over my frikin shoulder

  20. Nick

    I came from stumbleupon, and god damn, that was a good story.

  21. Dylan

    Scared the crap out of me.

  22. Ed

    an awesome Stephen King style ending!

  23. Jeremiah

    Stumlbleupon’d. I couldn’t even finish reading. Holy shit man.

  24. Drif

    Scary as HELL! And yes, I just crapped my pants!! Seriously though, I haven’t been able to get this out of my head since I read it 4 days ago.

  25. A single dissident voice

    Sorry, but it was kinda a non-creepy pile of cliche (old hotel clerks, creepy girls, phantom visions) to me. Better luck next time… but I seem to be the minority here.

  26. Pegg

    That was pretty brilliant.. the ending made me shudder.. stumbled here.. it was well worth it!

  27. Lora

    Wow. Just, wow. This was creepy, in the very best sense of the word.

  28. The Darkrider Ravenwood

    This great stuff, try a publisher.

  29. Emme

    Frak. Well, now I can’t sleep.

  30. coops

    Good story. Loved it. I overcame a fair bit of jealousy to tell you that.

  31. Spauracchio

    I completely fall in love with this story, and I ask your permission to translate it and post it on my blog, with the proper credit and link to your amazing site. =)

  32. Leaf

    Excellent, psychological, intense. And also sad. This wasn’t so much frightening as it was lonely. Which creates the most pervasive fear of all. I feel bad for Maddy. Thank you for writing.

  33. Trin

    wow that was so chilling. I wish I could write stories like that.

  34. Kate P.

    Extremely creepy…made the hairs on my neck stand up! I love horror, and my mind misbehaves on top of that. This is great stuff! I’m so glad I stumbled onto you this morning!!

  35. o

    Kris, I’ve been reading your comics for I don’t know how long, but only today found your horror. Man, is it good. The last line on this one made me yell out loud! But that is exactly how I like my short fiction, put a killer button on the end.

  36. amyss

    I love this site and read every story posted, yet this is the first time I have commented. There are so many horror/writing sites but NONE as consistently fantastic like this one- and this story is my favorite so far. CREEPY AS HELL!!

  37. Val Dante

    This story was very creepy. When I first started reading this, I thought it was a normal blog because I found the website using StumbleUpon. It only took a few sentences to realize it was a story. I generally don’t care for horror, but this simply caught my attention for some reason. I’m going to bookmark this and read some more of your work!

  38. The Golden Spike

    Practically perfect.

  39. Beth

    Oh, poor Maddy just wants someone to make her company in death.

  40. Londo

    Excellent story!

    The ending was nearly predictable, but I suspected the character seeing Maddy would begin noticing her every time he blinked or something.

    Way to incorporate body horror into the mix. Tres creepy!

  41. rambochu

    is it terribly wrong that i started laughing at the idea of her coming up from the drawer? i just couldn’t take it seriously anymore – i found the whole premise understandably scary, but much more absurd than frightening.

  42. Limner

    Awesome! Great writing. Amazing style, voice, story . . . I was there all the way.

    Thanks for a bit of worthwhile entertainment.

  43. LongshotLink

    It didn’t really creep me out, but maybe I’m in the wrong setting. Usually when I end up reading these it’s late at night, and I’m the only one awake. It was a good story, but I’ve already got a door based creep story to terrify me. Good job though.

  44. Olivia

    Oh My Gosh! Awsome story

  45. Lex

    It’s stories like this that make it harder and harder to fight the urge to adapt your horror stories into short films.

  46. Mathew

    I thought it was cute until the last line. That terrified me in the perfect way, I’m an aspiring writer, and your stories have brought the horror back into my mind that allows me to write.
    Thank you Kris, for being an amazing writer.

  47. Magdalene

    I’ve been browsing through these stories for a while, but as soon as I read the first paragraph, I couldn’t bring myself to finish the story. I actually do the same exact thing with doors ever since I saw The Grudge, and I knew this story would scare the shit out of me. Because most of them already have, haha.

  48. Millionaires Club

    Good day, I’m extremely amazed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. Btw, if you would like to make money from every single clicks you receive to the links in your blog posts, AdTrim is an ads network that offers you to shorten links so that when anyone clicks on the links, they will be shown an advertisement and you will earn $44 per 10k visitors. At this time the site is paying on time. I made over $1500 With AdTr.im within a month’s time. They do not ask for you to upgrade or purchase anything. Earning money is easy for each visitor to your blog with this url shortener. Thanks a lot.

  49. J. Brown

    HOLY $H!T!!!! EPIC!!! I haven’t read a short story with that jarring of an ending in a long time. Keep up the good work man!

  50. Near

    Is it just me, or does she seem pervy? She just wants to see. ;O

  51. Brent

    Wonderful story! Creepy and unsettling, but on more than the “oh no a ghost!” level. Haunted by a poor girl you can never save, can never help. But can also never escape. Creepy and also very sad. Kind of a curse for both parties.

    I really enjoyed this story. I think It’s my favorite one yet.

  52. Sarah Elisabeth

    It’s the same story from Broodhollow! Love it because it’s so, so creepy and one of the things I’m already sort of afraid of.

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