Unwanted Guests

It had been a long day and Maria was exhausted. She hated having to travel for work conferences, but the one highlight was always the hotel. Her employer may be making her travel across the country for days of pointless meetings and panels at the conference, but at the very least, they spared no expense when it came to her hotel, and during the week, Maria had made use of the accommodation provided to her. She had started every morning with a fruit salad by the pool and had fallen asleep every night in the comfiest of beds.

With her dinner half finished on the bedside table, she felt herself drifting off to sleep, trying to forget the early meeting she had booked for the next day as her eyes became heavy. There was a storm getting started outside, thunder rumbling softly in the distance as the rain began to lash the window panes. Its soft rhythm helped her to relax, and as she pulled the blankets over her body and closed her eyes, she found herself enjoying the luxury of the soft sheets and fluffy pillows.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria’s eyes snapped open, but there was silence again. She was so sure she’d heard a noise, but it was after midnight, and there was no reason for there to be a knock at her door, so she closed her eyes again and tried to relax again, sighing as she heard her mobile phone buzz beside her on the bedside table.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria sat up in bed, far more alert than she’d like for that time of night. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and it was so late, that the sound was a little unsettling.

“Hello?” She called out, but there was no response. She was certain that she’d heard someone at the door, so she grabbed her dressing gown and decided to check. As she approached the door, there was more knocking, and Maria tried to sound confident as she called out again, but a tinge of fear slipped into her voice as she spoke. “What do you want?”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

As she raised her closed eyes to the peephole, she took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves with reassurances that it would just be a member of staff, or a silly prankster. She felt around in the darkness for the door handle and took another breath before opening her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as she finally allowed herself to look.

There was a crowd of children, each wearing the same unsettling smile and a set of blood red robes. No older than seven or eight, with some as young as toddlers, they just stared at the door with those unmoving, unnerving smiles. They peered up at the door, their eyes still as the child in the centre raised a fist to the wood again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria jumped back, clutching her hand to her mouth. She could barely understand what she’d seen, but she knew that she wanted no part of it. Her eyes fell down to the small crack between the bottom of the door and the carpet, where a small glimmer of light flooded through, accompanied by the shadows of the children’s feet, still as the sound came again from the door.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She slowly stepped backwards towards the bedside table, reaching for her mobile phone, her heart sinking when she saw that there was no signal to make calls. As she glanced down at her home screen, she noticed that there was an unread text message sent a few minutes before she had begun to prepare for bed. She hadn’t noticed it before, and even if she had, she wasn’t sure that it would have helped her to be aware of it. It was a simple, spine chilling message, and she had no choice but to assume it was from the children.

“We’d like to take your photograph, Maria.” She read the words over and over, her breath hurried and panicked as she tried to make sense of what was happening. There was silence for a moment, before the children reminded her of their presence again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She glanced down at the text, her heart racing as the knock echoed around the room. The phone buzzed in her hand as the signal briefly returned, allowing another message to arrive, before it dropped once more. Maria tapped against the screen, hoping with everything that she had that the signal would reactivate and that she would be able to call for help, but it was no use. The words repeated in her head again and again, as the children, growing impatient, knocked again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She clicked the latest message notification, unsure of whether she wanted to see but clicking anyway.

There was no text, just a picture. The children were gathered around a man, beaten and bloody. He reached out an arm, his face sullen and screaming, and Maria shuddered, unable to shake the feeling that he was reaching out to her. The children smiled widely around him, beaming up at the camera, their faces covered in blood that could only belong to the man.

She felt sick but she couldn’t take her eyes off the image. Each time she looked, it disturbed her more.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She almost dropped her phone in shock, but the interruption took her eyes from the man, and allowed them to fall upon the landline phone on her bedside table, and as quietly as she could, she placed her mobile phone in her pocket and reached for the receiver of the landline, hoping to call for help. Raising it to her ear, she was alarmed to hear no dial tone. The line was almost silent, but when she listened, she could hear soft, gentle breathing.

She thought about speaking, but kept quiet, her eyes fixed on the door as the caller on the other end cleared their throat and began to speak.

“We’d like to take your photograph, Maria.” The voice was young, almost innocent, but with an edge that frightened her. She sat on the bed, keeping her eyes locked on the door, the shadows of the children still visible underneath it, as they waited, in vain for her to join them. “We just want to play.” She could hear other children in the background shuffling and trying to get hold of the phone as she spoke.

“Why?” The children laughed in response. She could hear it down the phone, but even louder outside, their gleeful laughter echoing down the hall.

“It’s just a game.” The line went dead as Maria sat, paralysed with fear among the sheets and blankets.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Another knock rattled through the room as Maria placed the receiver down on the phone and stood from the bed. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but she knew that she couldn’t just wait to find out what the children had planned for her.

Her phone buzzed again, and she opened the picture message right away. Recoiling in horror at what she saw.

The children were gathered in a circle around a young girl, their little faces lit up with smiles, and gripped tightly in her little hands was the head of the man from before. His eyes were open, wide and full of terror, his face captured in a scream that would never end.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Maria locked her phone, trying to come up with a plan, as she found the courage to keep walking towards the door, to find out what the children were doing.

Approaching the door, she leant against it, her eyes meeting the glass of the peephole.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

There seemed to be more of the children than before, all dressed in red, smiling up at the door.

She watched one of the children knock again on the door, her big, blue eyes gazing up with the sweetest smile as her hand slipped under her cloak for a moment. Maria wanted to look away, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.

She spotted the man’s head in the hands of one of the children further back in the crowd and felt a pant of nausea deep in her stomach.

“Maria…” Cooed the little girl, standing back as the children fanned out all around her to form a circle. Maria was frozen, stuck in place as the seconds ticked by. “We’d like to take your photograph.”

The other children giggled and pointed as the girl pulled a key from underneath her cloak with a wicked, wretched grin, and it was then that Maria knew that there was no escape.

The children would make her the star of their next photograph.

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