“When they arrive for check-in, everyone is already dead.” On their way to a secluded lake in a blustering rainstorm, three weekend fishermen pick up two girls stranded by the side of the road. In need of a landline and shelter from the storm, they take the girls to the nearest motel. When they arrive, the check-in clerk is already dead. They search the rooms and find more blood, with all the guests as dead as the phones.
And one of the killers is still there.
When their car is stolen by a stranger, stranding them at the corpse-filled motel with little chance of help in the storm, they must search for clues to avoid the killer and stay alive. But the biggest clue is about to come after them. This was no robbery. These killings had a purpose.
Plenty of vacancies at the Death Lake Motel. A twisted thrill-ride from the #1 bestselling author of The Whisper Killer and On Gravedigger Road
Targeted Age Group:: Any age (18+ more likely to read it)
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired by my love for suspense and horror. I'm an avid reader and love the art of storytelling, especially with tales of suspense. It's a challenge to scare readers.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
These are based on actors I imagine in my mind. I flesh out their idiosyncrasies and flaws before starting each book.
The headlights caught the red flashers long before the wreckage came into view. Though the rain hampered visibility, it looked to Owen like a small car had hit a tree head-on. The car was now stalled sideways in a ditch, one back wheel off the ground and spinning in the wind. He slowed his station wagon and pulled onto the shoulder of the road thirty yards behind the wreck.
“Probably driving too fast,” Gary said from the passenger seat. “Too damn fast in weather like this. Some people never learn.”
Rain sliced at the headlights, obscuring their view. It was impossible to see if anyone was still in the car, alive or dead. From the back seat, Bob put on his dark green fishing hat and shifted his belly to the edge of the seat.
“Looks like a corker, but there might be survivors.” He popped the lock. “Let’s see what’s what.”
The three men were two hours late already, but that bothered them little. As it was a weekend fishing trip—and two of them were retired anyway—schedules weren’t that important anymore. Bob still had a job pushing papers at the police department, but Owen was a retired cop, and Gary a retired accountant. Oddly, there seemed little time for these fishing weekends, anymore. This was only their second this year, and it was already fall.
Their wives had stayed home, happy for the break. Except for Bob’s. Divorced, he didn’t really know or care where the missus was spending the weekend. He always said that marriage was a two-way street and his wife was in the wrong lane driving an eighteen-wheeler. To be fair, she often said the same about him.
Bob opened the door and ran for the wrecked car. Gary followed him, shielding his eyes from the rain. Owen sighed and put the car in park. He donned his baseball cap, put his blinkers on, and ran out into the storm to help. He kept the car running, just in case.
Moving too fast on worn hiking boots with little tread left, he slid down the embankment over wet leaves, pinwheeling to keep his balance. Bob was already at the driver’s door to the wrecked compact VW. It was a little more compact now, having met the tree and lost the debate. He knocked on the driver side window.
“There’s a girl in there. Two girls. Hey. Hey, you two okay in there?” He knocked again. “Can you hear me?”
The car door popped opened, and a teenage girl wriggled her slender body out and spilled to the ground. In a pale blue dress that covered her knees, she looked barely old enough to drive. Next, another girl crawled across the seat and came out the driver’s side, as the passenger door was crumpled against an oak. Bob and Gary helped the girls to their feet.
“You two ladies okay?” Owen yelled against the storm. “Anyone hurt?”
“We’re fine,” the first girl shouted. She didn’t look hurt, except for a bruise on her cheek.
“Anyone else in there?”
“No. It’s just us.”
“Come on. Let’s get out of this mess.”
They clambered back up the slippery embankment, rain slashing at their faces, and took shelter in Owen’s station wagon. Inside, Owen pulled wet leaves off his boots, opened the door an inch and chucked them out. The girls scrunched into the back seat with Bob. When the back doors shut, they could hear each other again. All five of them were drenched from the short escapade; it felt good to be back in the car. Streams of water cascaded down the exterior of the windows.
“Helluva night to be out on a joy ride,” Bob scolded the girls. He assumed all teens were perpetually looking for trouble on a Friday night. “Two girls alone out here? What were you thinking?”
“We’re meeting our family on Dark Lake, the Timber Lay cabins,” one of the girls said, swiping a hand through her long red hair. “My sister and I, we got lost. We were backtracking to find the way. But then the storm hit.”
Her sister, a short-cropped blond, was wearing the same style of dress—simple, plain and long enough to cover her knees—and no makeup on her face. She nodded but stayed silent and avoided eye contact with the men. Watching the rain through the window, she shivered, and Owen wondered if she might be in shock from the accident.
“There’s a blanket in the back there. Grab it for them, will ya, Bob? I think it’s on the ice chest.”
Bob reached around with great effort—he was putting on ten pounds a year—and pulled a camo blanket from the station wagon’s back bed. He handed it to the girls. They dried their faces, then wrapped it around their shoulders, huddled together like a pair of scared mice.
“I’m Bob. That’s Owen and Gary. We’re headed the same way. Dark Lake. But we’re staying at one of the Moosejaw cabins on the other side.”
“We’ll give you a lift,” Owen added. “It’s on the way. The Timber cabins are first on the lake, right?”
“I’m Annie,” the redhead said. “My sister is Megan. We appreciate your help. And I don’t know about the cabins. Maybe first or second group.”
Owen didn’t think they looked like sisters. Except for the odd blue dresses, they were nothing alike.
“Truth be told,” he said, “you shouldn’t get into cars with strange men. We might’ve been serial killers or worse. Ya never know. Best to be careful.”
“I know.” Annie swiped water from her face. “You looked okay to me. We didn’t have much choice, anyway. We were stuck.”
“That you were. Lucky for you, we’re pretty harmless. Bob there has a flatulence problem, but other than that… you’re safe with us.”
“He’s not lying,” Bob admitted and shifted to make more room for the girls. “You young ladies aren’t exactly dressed for the outdoors, you know. Is that some kind of church choir outfit or school uniform?”
“Our father is conservative,” Annie said as if proud of the fact. “Our dresses are fine. Comfortable.”
“Not for camping, they’re not.”
“If you say so.”
Gary was studying his map, same as he’d been doing for the past hour. “There’s a motel up ahead on the road to the lake. We can stop there first so you can call your folks. You can try to call a tow truck, but I doubt they’ll be coming out tonight.”
“We’re still five miles from the cabins,” said Bob, “and this storm is a pip. I say we stop there for an hour or so and get a bite to eat. What do you guys think?”
“Fine with me,” Owen said. “Too dangerous to drive in this malarkey.”
“The Dark Lake Motel,” Bob said. “Remember? We been there a couple years ago. Diner’s got bacon and eggs for four dollars. A burger for a fiver. Or it used to be. You girls have enough for dinner? We can cover you if you need it. Get you a warm meal to warm your bones while you wait for your folks to pick you up. Unless we’re takin’ you all the way to the lake. Either way, the motel should have a land line.”
Their cell phones had been useless for the past twelve miles.
“We have money,” Annie said. “And I’ll call our father. He’ll know what to do.”
“It’s no problem; we can take you to the lake,” Owen offered. “How far down is your cabin?”
“No need. Father will pick us up.”
“The motel doesn’t have a diner,” Gary argued. “You’re thinking of Black Lake. We went there a few years back.”
A myriad of lakes crisscrossed upstate New York and Pennsylvania. It was hard for the men to keep track. Bob seemed especially prone to forgetting their names.
“So, which one is this?”
“I told you, Dark Lake.”
“Not Black Lake?”
“No. And not Black Lagoon, either,” Owen joked. “We’re not going to meet the Creature.”
Bob didn’t get the joke and let it drop. He settled back in his seat and smiled at the two shivering girls.
Progress was slow along the slick road with no streetlights. Mud washed across its surface, carrying wet leaves and twigs with it. Owen leaned forward into the windshield; he found it hard to see more than a dozen yards ahead, so he eased up on the gas. The car crawled forward at 25 mph.
A shivering coyote scurried onto the road. It saw the car’s headlights, panicked and started to turn back, then dashed the rest of the way across and vanished into the woods. Owen slammed on his brakes. The car skidded sideways to a stop on the road’s muddy shoulder.
“Slow down, Officer Pearson,” Gary said. He looked at his friend over the rims of his glasses. “We didn’t rescue these young ladies just to toss them into another tree. Did we?”
Owen wasn’t a policeman anymore, but his friends still called him Officer. Even his wife used the nickname on occasion.
“Sorry.” Owen eased the car back onto the road and moved them at a snail’s pace between the yellow lines. The motel was two miles ahead. “You’d think a coyote would have enough sense to stay home tonight.”
“You’d think a lot of things, my friend. These days, most of the time you’d be wrong.”
“Here, here,” Bob mumbled from the back. He gave the girls a reassuring thumbs-up. Annie returned him a nervous smile. Megan looked out the window and remained sullenly quiet.
“A chameleon walks into a bar,” Bob said, “and says to the bartender: If my wife calls, you didn’t see me.”
Gary chuckled, but the others returned no reaction.
“It’s my best lakeside joke,” Bob explained. “You’ll get it, if you think about it.” Then he muttered, “So much for breaking the ice.”
The car pursued the road while its passengers observed an uncomfortable silence.
Finally, a blurry yellow-lighted sign appeared next to an inlet on the left. On closer approach it read “DARK LA E MO EL.” Old age had taken the K and T years earlier. Underneath, smaller letters advertised rooms from 29.50/night. A neon yellow Vacancy sign flashed next to it, though they suspected the flashing wasn’t on purpose but from worn circuits.
“Jeez. How do they stay in business?” Gary asked. “That’s cheap even for the sticks.”
“I’m sure it ain’t the Ritz,” Owen said.
He pulled the station wagon into the motel parking lot, a lonely hideaway carved into the woods, surrounded by a thick line of trees. Fifteen rooms stretched to the right—their doors badly in need of a fresh paint job—and an office was brightly lit on the left. Only one other car sat parked in the lot, a rusted Mazda in front of room twelve, near the end. There was no cafe or diner.
“I guess the four-dollar breakfast is off the table, no pun intended, and that’s a shame,” Bob grumbled. “I’m hungry as a wolf.”
“You’re always hungry,” Gary said as he jammed the map into the glove compartment.
“So much for dinner, but I guess they got plenty of vacancies,” Owen said absently as he concentrated to avoid a stray tree branch spinning past his front wheel. He steered up to a spot near the office, shut off the ignition and peered through the windshield. It was difficult to see anything through the deluge, let alone the front desk, but the lights were on. They were open. “Maybe they’ve got hot coffee, at least. I could use one. Or three.”
“You girls okay?” Bob asked. “Come in and call your folks. You can use the blanket to shield your heads.”
“Thanks,” Annie said, but left the blanket in the car.
All five rushed from the car to the motel office, hunched over and covering their heads with their hands. This did little to shelter them from the storm. Their shoes sloshed through a string of puddles growing deeper by the minute.
A bell jangled upon opening the door and again when it slammed shut. They stayed on the four-foot wide welcome mat and shook water off their jackets and shoes. The desk was unmanned, and no one answered the door’s clang. Owen shook his arms one last time and stepped to the desk. He tapped the small round service bell on the counter, waited, then tapped it twice more. Its high-pitched pings echoed through the lobby. No one came out to greet them.
“What time is it?” He glanced at the clock on the wall. 10:33. At two a.m. he might expect to wake the desk clerk from a nap, but not this early. He called out. “Hello? Hello! Can we get some help?”
The door to a back room was open a few inches. Light escaped its crack, which meant the desk clerk was probably back there dozing. The sound of a TV eventually won over the drill of rain on the roof. They faintly heard canned laughter from a sitcom. Owen tapped the bell again, but no one answered.
The office wall facing the lot consisted of a large plate glass window, nine feet high and eleven feet across, offering a sweeping view of the motel grounds. Through it, they could see the storm punishing the outside world. A rogue tree branch slammed into Owen’s car, rolled over the top and was sucked into the woods beyond the lot.
“There’s the phone,” Gary said. He pointed to an old Bell Atlantic princess phone—a relic from the 80s—perched on a shelf behind the desk. “Just let the girls use it.”
Owen bit his lip. “We shouldn’t use their phone without permission.” He tapped the bell again.
“It’s not long distance, for crying out loud!” Gary grabbed a tissue from a Kleenex box next to the bell and wiped beads of water off his wire-rim glasses. “The girls aren’t calling Japan. They only need to call their folks at the lake. We’re a few miles away.”
“It’s still not right. We should ask first. Hello! Hello back there!” He tapped the bell again.
Gary slammed his hand on Owen’s to stop the infernal clang. “Please stop that.”
“Oh, for crying out loud! I’ll wake them up,” Bob grumbled. He waddled around the desk toward the back room but stopped short. His eyes widened as he ogled the desk covered in splotches of maroon. To the untrained eye, it might look like spilled wine. “Guys. There’s blood all over the chair. On the desk, too; it’s everywhere. Take a look.”
The men and Annie filed around the desk and studied the red and brown stains that covered the office. Megan stayed close to the door, hugging her arms to her chest. Still shivering, she glanced outside every few seconds while the others explored the office. She flinched with every nuance of the storm, every lightning flash and twig that scraped the windows.
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