Thomas Smith

The April Special Guest Writer is

Thomas Smith

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Thomas Smith

by Thomas Smith

The moment Lloyd McPherson dialed the telephone the world went dark. At least that was the illusion created by the first dark clouds of the coming storm as they pushed the October sun out of the way. As it was, Lloyd barely noticed. His connection had already failed twice and the one that was coaxing the second ring from the phone on the other end was tenuous at best.

He had debated the idea of calling the Steadman Resort for almost two days and, right or wrong, he had finally placed the call. The line popped and crackled; the ghosts of past conversations unaware they were long finished. Lloyd’s finger hovered over the tiny plunger that held the power to terminate the connection. Twice he had pulled back at the last second, an instant away from the comforting buzz of a new dial tone. He was still not so sure.

“Thank you for calling the Steadman Resort. How may I be of service this afternoon?”

“What?” The world swam back into focus in one large wave. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was a little preoccupied.”

“Of course sir. How may I be of service?” The voice was steady. That sort of well-bred, professionally aloof hotel voice. A voice that implied the sort of patience gained after a lifetime of serving the public’s whims.

Lloyd stopped drumming his fingers long enough to pick up a pen and start tapping the capped end on a weekly organizer pad. Stupid Stuff I Gotta Do This Week. He tapped number three. Call the Steadman. “I was…well…I was calling on the off chance you might have a room available for the next two or three days. I know this is rather short notice, but this was a spur of the moment idea.” The lie tasted funny. 

“If you’ll allow me just one moment, I’ll be happy to check for you sir. I believe we may have a room available tonight. Could you hold please?”


The line went silent. At that moment the idea of severing the connection before the reservations clerk returned was overwhelming. Though he needed to go back, this might not be the time. Maybe in a couple of months. That’s it, he thought. I’ll wait a little longer.

With that thought in mind he reached for the plunger. Just as the voice returned. “Sir we have an ocean view room available, and I will be more than happy to hold it for you if you’d like.

Lloyd hesitated. He was still not one hundred per cent sure about this decision.


“Oh, right. That will be fine.” He fished for his American Express card. “I’m sorry if I sound a little out of it. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure you would even be open. I thought I remembered someone telling me you were in the process of remodeling.”

“No sir, that’s all finished. We are right here and ready for your visit.”

“OK, that sounds fine. My name is Lloyd McPherson, and my American Express number is…”

“Mr. McPherson, you of all people don’t need to secure a room. You’re a valued guest here, and it will be our pleasure to have you stay with us again. As a matter of fact, I look forward to serving you personally.”

Lloyd sat back in his chair. “Thank you, that’s very kind. I’m looking forward to staying…

another lie?

…for a few days. I will probably arrive sometime after nine tonight.”

The voice, smooth as polished wood. “We’ll be waiting. Have a pleasant trip.”

The world went dark again. “Thank you.”

“Good bye then Mr. McPherson.”


Lloyd replaced the receiver and stared at the telephone. Stared like a man waiting for the next word from God Himself.


The open road and the subliminal hint of salt in the air cleared his head a little. Lloyd had been driving for almost an hour and a half before he so much as sighed. He hadn’t sung with the radio, hadn’t even yelled at the Volkswagen full of college kids that pulled out in front of him earlier. His grief had been gray and deep, just like the weather. But even with the thickening clouds overhead, the sea air began to work its magic.


So slowly.

He and Carrington had always loved the beach. Before they could afford a place on the ocean, they dreamed of having their own place. Then, when money was no problem, they found they enjoyed going to various hotels or renting a condo for a week or two. That way they could enjoy one another and somebody else could worry about maintenance, cutting the grass, and all the other little headaches that would go with owning their own place.

And now the ocean was starting to soothe him somewhat. But not before he had replayed the events of their last day together.

They had read about the Steadman Resort in a regional travel magazine and immediately fell in love with it. The tennis courts, racquetball courts, ocean view, bicycle trails, and attentive staff were just the tip of the iceberg. The location—the Outer Banks of North Carolina—was secluded enough to afford them privacy when they wanted it, but they were close enough to the quaint shops and historic sights of the surrounding area to immerse themselves to their heart’s delight. And immerse themselves they had.

Their days had been filled with walks on secluded beaches, picnics on the shore, treks to such exotic places as Duck and Nags Head, and wonderful evenings of dinner, dancing, and romance. The resort had a grand ballroom and an orchestra that played big band and swing music until the wee hours of the morning. They had enjoyed their first trip so much they had spent the past five Thanksgivings there.

Almost five.

Every newspaper in the state ran a story about the fire. Due to the tragic outcome it even made the wire services. Fifty people lost their lives and a dozen more went to the hospital with various cuts, burns, and broken bones. The news people said they were lucky anybody survived at all.

But Lloyd hadn’t felt lucky.

The fire started on the outside of the building and effectively trapped everyone in the ballroom from the start. At first no one noticed. It was Thanksgiving and the Steadman was hosting its annual black tie charity dinner and dance. Champaign. Party favors. The works. The orchestra had been playing a jumping arrangement of Woodchopper’s Ball that had two thirds of the couples in attendance on the dance floor. The large hearth at one end of the room—so big you could roast an entire pig in it—crackled and snapped while the celebrants whirled and glided across the room.

Blanche Lee was the first to notice that something was wrong. She noticed (a fraction too late) the moment the window next to her shattered from the heat outside. An eighteen-inch dagger of glass pinned her to her chair and claimed the first casualty of the night.

The first of many.

Marge Newland, Blanche’s newfound friend and fellow antique shop aficionado, screamed as the shards of glass fell around her. She watched her companion die in horrible slow motion. Time was molasses thick and through it all Marge could neither move nor breathe. The scream siphoned all the air from her lungs and the effort to refill them was thwarted by panic. She started to hyperventilate.

At the same time Marge screamed, Joe Ramey burned his hand on the door that led to the outer hallway and on to the main building. The massive oak door blistered his hand, but his yelp of pain had been lost in Marge’s scream. Later that night Joe would tell district fire chief Walt Richards about the ensuing pandemonium. Other witnesses would tell the chief about Joe rescuing five people from the blazing ruin.

All Lloyd remembered from that point on was trying to get himself and Carrington out of the building. When the severity of the situation became apparent, the herd instinct took over and the occupants of the room all headed for the nearest exit in a giant cluster. Joe waved them away from the door which had devoured two layers of skin moments earlier and part of the crowd shifted toward the next exit. Caught in the crush, he and Carrington had been swept along with the tide. Stumbling, sweat soaked hands slipping but never completely losing contact, they scanned the room for another way out.

When the line that fed the gas jets in the fireplace ruptured, the orchestra was dead where they sat. The resulting explosion unfolded a fan of solid blue flame that covered the entire bandstand. So intense was the blaze that the lead trumpet player’s valve oil bottle erupted in his hand and created a blue hot formal length glove of flame from elbow to fingertips.

Nobody heard him scream.

Overhead a beam exploded and several others ignited as if by an unseen hand. The crowd, now very much like stampeding cattle, managed to find an exit and began to trample one another in an effort to leave the microcosm of hell. Pushing and shoving. Trampling anything and anyone in their path.

That’s when the beam above Lloyd fell.

His first instinct had been to pull Carrington to safety and he had pulled with all his might.

He had pulled against the tide of terrified humanity.

He had pulled against the tide of the inevitable.

In the seconds that seemed to stretch into months he saw her face. Saw the look of horror on that smudged, perfect face. Somehow her cheek had been cut and the blood seemed to have been painted on in a long thin line from ear to chin. Then time sped up, a demon train on its way to oblivion. He remembered screaming her name, remembered being shoved deeper into the crowd, and remembered the feeling as her fingers slipped away.

And he remembered the beam falling.

An oaken inferno, close to a thousand pounds of flame and timber, came crashing down with an ear splitting roar. It sounded like a victory cry straight out of Hell. In the end, it had killed four people. Carrington and three others.

He knew that he screamed and tried to wade against the frightened, cow-eyed mass of people, but he couldn’t remember how he managed to get out.

And as he sat watching the world through a haze of tears, he didn’t know how long he had been in the Steadman parking area.

Lloyd switched off the Jaguar’s engine, unbuckled his seat belt, and got out of the car. The last half hour was a blur. He still thought about that night five years ago often enough, but it had been a while since the memory had been that vivid. Was that an omen?  A message to retreat for a while longer?  He didn’t know. Couldn’t bring himself to think about it now.

The first thing he noticed when he entered the lobby was the sameness of the hotel. It hadn’t changed. The wood, the furnishings, the plants, even the smell. Brass polish and heart pine. It was as if the Steadman had never burned.

He stared at the polished oak and gleaming brass. Everything was the picture of perfection. The hotel had been resurrected. As if the fire had never happened.

Something slick and terrible caressed his insides.

The sound of the bellman’s voice jolted him back to reality. “May I be of service sir?” A voice accustomed to helping travelers caught up in the spell of the Steadman. No impatience. Just waiting to do his job; a job he had no doubt performed since the Steadman’s opening.

“No…I mean yes. I need to check in. My reservation is in the name McPherson.”

The bellman took the lone suitcase. “Of course Mr. McPherson, we’ve been expecting you.” He bowed ever so slightly. “Please follow me.”

The bellman escorted Lloyd to the front desk where he was greeted like an old friend. “Mr. McPherson,” the desk clerk said. “I trust you had an enjoyable drive.” He nodded to the bellman. “Take Mr. McPherson’s case to his room.”

He turned to tell his escort he would be glad to handle his own bag, but the bellman and his suitcase were gone.   

“Mr. McPherson, here is the key. You will be in room one thirty-nine. If there is anything else you need, please don’t hesitate to ring the desk.” Lloyd turned and accepted the brass key. He looked at it, trying to find the answer to a question as yet unformed.

“Sir, is there a problem?”

“No. No, I was just trying to take in how perfect everything is. It’s almost as if the Steadman never, well, never—”

The desk manager smiled.”I know. It is quite astounding what can be done when you want it badly enough.”

“True enough I suppose. It’s funny though.” Lloyd looked at the key again. Noticed how the light rippled across the polished brass. “I didn’t realize you had rebuilt the entire complex.”

The desk manager, smooth, polished wood voice, smiled. “Well, you have been rather preoccupied if I may be so bold.” The smile changed ever so slightly.

“No,” Lloyd answered, “you’re absolutely right.” He pocketed the key and stepped back from the desk. “I think a few days here might actually be just the thing I need—”

The desk manager cut him off. “Of course. We understand completely. This cannot be an easy journey for you.” The smile slipped away. “So sad. So tragic and so needless.”

Lloyd nodded but said nothing. Another sound had captured his attention.


Big band music. He looked around to his left then back again. “You really have made a comeback.” He looked in the direction from which strains of I Can’t Get Started flowed.

“Maybe you’d care to have a drink and listen to the orchestra for a while before you turn in, Mr. McPherson. I believe you will find it beneficial.”

Lloyd started to refuse the suggestion and go straight to his room. The trip had been long and he wasn’t sure he was ready to go in the ballroom just yet. He was just now becoming accustomed to the idea that he was here and having a conversation with the desk manager in a place that represented the darkest day of his life. In fact, he had been so taken aback by the experience so far, he realized his credit card had not been imprinted. He hadn’t even inquired about the desk manager’s name.

He turned to raise the issues with the desk manager but was stopped short. The blond man behind the counter extended his hand, and Lloyd shook it automatically. “Now Mr. McPherson, you go right in, order a drink, and make yourself comfortable. Don’t be concerned about your room. We will take perfect care of you. And should you need anything, ask for me personally. My name is Paul.”

The room seemed to tilt slightly and he followed the tilt toward the room where the orchestra played. He turned back just long enough for Paul to say, “Go ahead in sir. This is the reason you came.”

Before he could think f a response he had turned the brass door handle and was walking inside.

The room was exactly the way he remembered it. The long mahogany bar to his right was polished to a high sheen. The brass rails and sparkling glass and crystal ware reflected in the long mirror behind the bar created the illusion of a huge double bar. And the single bar was plenty large for the room.          

The tables were arranged in clusters around a pristine dance floor, recently polished to a high gloss. There were already about fifty couples in various sections of the room. The orchestra played as if there was a New Year’s Eve party in full swing. The bandleader threw a two-fingered salute in Lloyd’s direction while giving the downbeat for Satin Doll.

“How many in your party, sir?”

Lloyd turned to the woman who had addressed him. Her platinum hair and fair skin was a perfect contrast to her night black dress.

“Just one thank you.”

“Will anyone be joining you later?”

Lloyd cocked his head as if he hadn’t understood. “No, I’m alone this evening.” That’s the truth if I ever told it, he thought as he was escorted to a table close to the bandstand. When he was seated, the platinum vision in black took his drink order and went back to the bar.

For the first time since his arrival Lloyd had a chance to really look and take everything in. It was the same. From the exposed beams right down to the design in the carpet. It was exactly the same. Like the desk manager had said, it was amazing what you could do if you wanted to badly enough.

If only that were really true.

A slight movement at his right elbow interrupted his thoughts. “That didn’t take long,” he said as he turned to take his drink.

“No, not long at all,” Carrington said in response.


The room shifted, went slightly out of focus. Lloyd could see nothing except the face of his beloved Carrington.

Carrington was his life. The exhale to his every inhaled breath.

Carrington was dead.

She died here.

Lloyd closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was impossible.

He opened his eyes again, felt the room tilt. His heart jackhammered his ribs. He felt cold. No physically, but a more elemental, psychic and spiritual.

Oh dear God, he thought. I’m losing it.

He closed his eyes again and tried to regain some semblance of control. He opened his eyes again and let out the breath he had been holding. The specter of his dead wife was gone.

Stress, he thought. That’s what it is. I just came out too soon.

He turned to pick up his glass. If he ever needed a drink, he needed one now.


The sound of his name turned his spine to ice.

Carrington sat across from him looking for all the world the way she had looked the night they first came to the Steadman.

He looked at her. Saw without fully comprehending. Her face was the same. The same delicate nose; the same bright green eyes. The same porcelain skin. It was Carrington.

But it couldn’t be.

“What’s happening to me?” Lloyd asked no one in particular. A last attempt to hold his emotions in their precarious safety net. “What’s happening?”

Carrington smiled. “Don’t you know?  Really?”

Lloyd slid his chair back and jerked his hands away from the table as if it had carried a massive electrical charge. “This is not happening. It’s not.” A tear formed in the corner of one eye. “It’s not.”

His dead wife’s smile changed ever so slightly. “Yes it is Lloyd. This is happening. Everything here is perfect. Just the way you wanted it.

“Just the way it was that night.”

Her words were lost on him.

“How?  I mean—” He looked around the room. The orchestra played—had never stopped playing—while couples danced, or sat and listened. Ice tinkled in glasses. Smoke from a dozen cigarettes ambled toward the ceiling.





“No. This is wrong. All wrong.”

“Why?” she asked. “It’s what you wanted isn’t it?”

“What I wanted?” He turned to face what had once been his partner in life. “What do you mean isn’t this what I wanted?”

“Lloyd, I know you’ve been hurting. Every day since—”

“No.” He cut her off and shook his head. “I came here to come to terms with what happened.” He sent a less than steady hand to fetch his drink.

“Is that really why you came?”

The bourbon was tasteless. There was no reassuring jolt of fire from throat to belly. He looked at the glass, then at his wife. “What?”

“You came here hoping to find it had all been a dream. You wanted the impossible to happen, and now it has.” She held out a hand. “So now you have to accept it.”

He moved his chair toward the table. Hesitated. His heart was a thoroughbred straining against the gate.


The tear traced its way down his cheek. Many more followed the path it blazed.

“Carrington…how…I mean…how did…?”

“You did it.”

The words hit him with the force of a sledge hammer. “How did I do this?  How could I possibly have done this?”

“If you want something bad enough.” She smiled again. The smile he had seen a thousand times. The smile that had buoyed his heart every day of their married life. The smile that now brought a slim part of the reality of his situation home.

He reached for her hand. “It really is you. You’re really here.” Now it was his turn to smile. “It’s impossible, and insane, but you’re here.”

She nodded. “I told you so.”

He looked at her. He couldn’t help himself.  She was exactly as she had always been. Perfect.

He released her hand and wiped the tears from his eyes. The orchestra played and couples swirled around the floor. But as far as he was concerned, there was no one else in the world but Carrington. His Carrington. It was absolutely impossible and absolutely true. He stood and walked around the table.

“Can I hold you?”

The orchestra played a slow Glenn Miller tune. Carrington stood and held out her arms to him.


Lloyd took her in his arms. Savored the feel of her. He buried his face in the soft junction of her neck and shoulder. Pulled her closer. All the memories and all the suppressed feelings rushed back in a solid wave of emotion.

She was here. They were together. And she felt…

If you want something bad enough.


He held her tighter.

She didn’t respond.

He held her at arm’s length. “Carrington, what’s wrong?”

She smiled again. The same smile he had loved for years. But not the same?  Almost the same.

“Just then when I held you. Didn’t you feel anything at all?”

“No. We don’t feel anything here.”

He bit his lower lip. Partly habit and partly for the pain. He needed the pain. He needed to clear his head. “What do you mean you don’t feel anything here?”

She motioned for him to sit. “When I died I saw the fire, the smoke, the crush of people. And I saw others around me watching the same thing. Then there was a kind of nothing for a while. I knew what was happening, but it didn’t matter.”

Lloyd’s head was throbbing like a rotten nerve in an abscessed tooth. The orchestra continued to play and the couples continued to swirl. Then he realized what had bothered him from the moment he walked in. With the exception of the desk manager and the hostess, no one had spoken. The couples at the tables smoked and drank but never uttered a word. The orchestra played but there was no banter between songs from the bandleader.

“You see, we know everything we need to know here. This is a different level of existence, so the physical amenities of the other existence really aren’t necessary.”

“If you don’t have any feelings for me then why did you come back?” The tears started again.

“Lloyd, I didn’t come back. You came to me. What you see is the essence of who I was, as if it was frozen in time. We do not age, we do not feel. We know what we need to know. We exist, and existence is enough.”

He attempted to understand. “Then this is Heaven?”


“Is it Hell?”


Lloyd felt the first stirring of anger push his fear off to the side. “Then where are we?”

“We’re at the Steadman. Your Steadman.”

The black dawning of complete realization struck him like a fist.

“Carrington, you said there were others watching the events of that night with you. Do you mean these people too?”

She nodded.

He began to shiver. The air had grown suddenly cold and the fire in the hearth provided no warmth. He watched the couples swirl soundlessly. The orchestra played on, no longer burned by the inferno, no longer feeling the music. Just shades of musicians playing shades of feelings long forgotten.

“If what you say is true then I’m going back home. If I can’t hold you—the real you—then I won’t settle for an empty substitute. I just can’t.” He stood and turned to go.

She took his arm. “You can’t leave.”

Another smile. Mirthless. The memory of a smile. “Those who haven’t crossed over know so little. You assume it is always those from this side who cross over. Hauntings, you call them.” She paused… 

…if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen… 

“Sometimes one of you crosses over to here. That’s what you did.” She sounded matter-of-fact now. “There is no front desk. No Steadman. And tomorrow or the day after someone will find your car parked where you left it. In front of the charred foundation of what used to be the Steadman Resort.”

Lloyd’s breath caught in his throat. The room grew colder. The band played louder. He grabbed her shoulders and shouted to be heard above the increasing din of the orchestra. “What are you saying? Do you mean I’ll just stay here, never age, and keep company with a room full of what used to be?”

“Not exactly. You’ll age, but since time has so little meaning here, you will age slowly. But you will never die.”

She smiled her dead smile.

The horror of the situation bloomed, a blood rose opening in his mind. He would age beyond ancient with the specter of his fondest memory eternally before him. Never changing. Never caring. The realization was too much. He pushed the almost Carrington aside and raced toward the nearest exit.

He turned the brass door handle and rushed toward the lobby and his waiting car.

The room was exactly the way he remembered it. The long mahogany bar to his right was polished to a high sheen. The brass rails and sparkling glass and crystal ware reflected in the long mirror behind the bar created the illusion of a huge double bar. And the single bar was plenty large for the room.          

The tables were arranged in clusters around a pristine dance floor, recently polished to a high gloss. There were already about fifty couples in various sections of the room. The orchestra played as if there was a New Year’s Eve party in full swing. The bandleader threw a two-fingered salute in Lloyd’s direction while giving the downbeat for Satin Doll.

“How many in your party sir?”

Lloyd turned to the woman who addressed him. Her platinum hair and fair skin were a perfect contrast to her night black dress.

He could not speak. Undiluted dread clutched his throat with fingers of cold glass bone.

“Sir, will anyone be joining you later?”

He heard a soft click as the door closed behind him.













































































Thomas Smith’s work has appeared in many publications, including Cemetery DanceHorror 101: The Way ForwardQuietly Now: An Anthology in Tribute to Charles L. Grant, and Tales to Terrify. His novel, Something Stirs, was the first haunted house novel for the Christian market. His greatest achievement was the day Charles L. Grant read this story and said, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

He was selected as part of the writing team (including Rick WarrenChuck ColsonLee Strobel and Ravi Zacharias) to Create Zondervan’s New Men’s Devotional Bible.

Thomas has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and a comedy writer for The Steve & Kathy Show (Emmy winning Christian TV variety show).

Interesting Fact: Thomas may be the only writer to ever work on projects with Stephen King and the Rev. Rick Warren at the same time.

See more about Thomas HERE

Something Stirs

Quietly Now




















































































































































































































































































































Something Stirs Quietly Now Unthinkable