Where Horror Movies Begin

dollKatie Burke sat still, her husband’s hands covering her eyes as he stood behind her.

“Surprise!”

Sean’s hands now rested on Katie’s shoulders and he gave them a gentle squeeze as she scanned the computer monitor in front of her. She saw an image of horses idling behind a fence. A big red barn. Bright orange and red leaves fluttering toward the ground.

“You got me a horse?”

Sean laughed. “Um, afraid not. Did you want a horse?”

“Nope. Not even a little.”

“Phew, okay then. Would have been a tight fit keeping a horse in a row house.” Sean paused and Katie gave a the expected hmmmp to acknowledge the joke. “We’re going to a Bed and Breakfast. Out in the country,” Sean said.”

Katie could feel his body becoming tense. He was trying so hard. Be nice, be thankful, she told herself.

She knew there were few things Sean would rather do less than go to a frilly, flower-wallpapered, ESPN-less Bed and Breakfast. He was putting in some serious effort.

“Wow,” she said, “that’s so sweet. Thanks, hun. When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning. Pack for a night out on the town, too. I made reservations at the best restaurant in Lancaster.”

“Sounds great!”

Sean obviously didn’t realize there were few things Katie would rather do than go to a frilly, flower-wallpapered Bed and Breakfast. She liked big hotels with modern amenities and spa bathrooms. She liked fluffy terry-cloth robes, king-size beds, cable TV and room service. How is it they know each other so little after six years of marriage? Like looking at a glacier, it seemed like they couldn’t get past what they saw on the surface.

Be nice, be thankful.

Katie turned around, giving Sean a peck on the lips and a quick hug. She wondered what qualified as the best restaurant in a town known mostly for outlet shopping, horse-drawn buggies and lack of electricity. She doubted her leather skirt and over-the-knee stiletto boots would be appropriate.

“This is all way too much for a random birthday.”

“Nonsense,” Sean said, smiling at her.

*             *             *

Sean pulled into the driveway of Zephyr Ranch B&B just after 2pm on Saturday. The clouds hung low in the sky and the wind blew newly fallen leaves across the grass. He and Katie had stopped for a leisurely lunch on their way to the B&B. He thought he would be dreading this trip to the boonies, but lunch had been full of laughs as they indulged in a craft beer and exchanged well-worn stories about his brother Pete’s Tinder escapades.

“Remember the girl who turned out to be a Furry?” he asked. Katie’s face flushed pink and she covered her mouth.

“Oh my god – and he dated her for another month after finding out!”

Sean couldn’t remember the last time they had laughed so hard together. He reveled that he had planned something on his own and actually surprised her. Katie’s 34th birthday: a success.

He turned off the car and popped the trunk to grab their bags. “Here we are.”

*             *             *

Zephyr Ranch loomed in front of Katie, the Frankenstein of B&Bs. What looked to have once been a stone farmhouse now had grotesque additions jutting in every direction. Vinyl siding assaulted her from the west; a cylindrical brick tower sprouted from the right-hand side of the roof.

“Where do you think the entrance is?” Katie asked.

Sean shrugged. “I’m not really sure…maybe try that green door over there?”

They carried their overnight bags toward the inn. Just as Sean reached for the doorknob, the door swung open.

“Welcome to Zephyr Ranch! I’m Karen.”

Katie shook hands with the delicate woman. Her long brown hair fell down her back in a loose braid. She wore wire-framed glasses, a moss colored t-shirt that matched her big eyes, mom jeans and blinding white Reeboks. Katie felt obnoxious in her Lucky Brand jeans and blouse. She self-consciously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I’m Katie and this is my husband, Sean. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Well, we’re so excited you’re here. You’ve got the best room in the house, you’re gonna love it. Come on in.”

They walked into the hallway, a narrow, brightly lit space that led to a sitting room. Katie could not find so much as an inch of wall visible to her naked eye. Framed photos, drawings and paintings of various eras and sizes hung beside and on top of one another.

Karen showed Sean and Katie the sitting room, the snack pantry and the breakfast nook before guiding them to their quarters. The trio climbed a small, winding staircase to the 2nd floor. The Frankenstein nature of the house made itself apparent as they proceeded down the maze of a hallway. They walked up two more steps, turned right down another hall, made a right and descended three steps before arriving at their door. A handmade wood sign bolted to the door announced they’d been booked in the “Victorian Honeymoon Suite.”

Karen opened the door and ushered Sean and Katie into the room. Katie couldn’t stop her eyes from widening as she took in the room.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” Karen asked, smiling. “I do all the decorating here at Zephyr Ranch.”

“It’s out of this world,” Katie said. “Really something else.”

“Thank you! I’m so glad you like it.”

Karen showed the couple the bathroom. Katie breathed a sigh of relief that they had a private bathroom. Sean probably had no clue that B&B guests sometimes shared a communal one. He would have gone ballistic if they’d had to share with other guests. If there were any other guests.

“I’ll let you get settled in,” Karen said. Sean fumbled to take out his wallet and give her a tip. She grabbed his hand between both hers. “Please, no need for that at Zephyr Ranch. Enjoy your afternoon.”

Katie waited for a few seconds after Karen closed the door before exhaling.

“Holy shit. Are they serious with this?”

“Um, I’m just glad you piped up with ‘really something else’ because I don’t know what I would have said.”

“And this is the best room …?”

Katie gazed around the walls, which, like the first floor, somehow withstood the weight of a million framed pictures. The only difference: the bulk of “art” in the Victorian Honeymoon Suite starred the one and only Jesus Christ. Several rocking chairs and benches were scattered around the expansive pink room. Each rocking chair held no fewer than ten antique porcelain dolls in various states of disrepair. An especially disturbing one had a dark hole cracked into its face where a sky-blue marble eye should be.

“That doll is freaking me out,” Katie said.

“This room is where horror movies begin. What’s with all the God pics?” Sean said, eyes darting between the myriad drawings of Jesus. He took out his iPhone and started snapping photos.

“The Redditors are gonna eat this up.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t spontaneously combust when you crossed the threshold.” Katie winked at Sean and he walked over and gave her a hug. She was silently relieved he hadn’t gotten defensive when she joked about the room. She never could tell which way the pendulum would swing with Sean, and she didn’t want him to think she was ungrateful for the getaway.

“I had no idea hell would have SO. MANY. RUFFLES. And I thought there would be more fire, not floor to ceiling pink.”

“I had no idea that honeymoon suites were supposed to be slathered in renderings of our Lord and Savior.”

“Oh, c’mon – are you really surprised he likes to watch?”

Katie laughed. “This is, like, an amateur comedian’s dream come true.”

“Well, let’s save some witticisms for after dinner tonight. After a couple of drinks, I’ll bet we’ll really be on fire.”

They unpacked their things, flipped through some shows on TV and tried to relax for a while. But all the eyes staring at them from the walls and the dolls left them feeling uneasy.

Katie washed her face, put on makeup and changed for dinner, all under the watchful eye of Christ. She started to wonder if there were Peeping Toms watching them from another room, the pictures covering up some creepy porn or murder ring.

“Let’s get out of here, huh?” Sean said, using 3G to order an Uber. “I’m sure the restaurant can bump up our reservation.”

“Yeah, God’s Dollhouse is bugging me out. I’m definitely ready for a cocktail.”

Dinner turned out to be delicious. They enjoyed food from the local farms, the veggies and cheeses remarkably fresh. They went to a bar down the street for a nightcap and listened to the guitar trio who played muted hits from the 90s.

Reluctantly, they called it a night and Ubered back to the B&B. It seemed deserted when they arrived, silence enveloping them.

The found their way through the dimly lit maze of hallways to their room.

“Leave the lights off,” Katie said, grabbing Sean’s arm a little too urgently before he could flip the switch. She couldn’t stand the idea of those marble eyes looking up at her. “Thanks for a fun evening, hun.”

She gave Sean a kiss, relieved that the room was nearly pitch black, no ambient light creeping in from the windows.

*             *             *

“Checkout is at 10:30,” Sean said as he toweled his hair dry the next morning. He’d taken a shower while a teenaged Jesus and his mother Mary kept an eye on him. The towels, he noticed, featured embroidered crosses on them.

“We could just check out now,” Katie said as she laced up her boots. “Beat the traffic.”

Sean smirked. “I’m sure the Lancaster rush hour traffic has already passed. Don’t you want to do the second ‘B’ of the B&B?”

“Not really.”

“All the web reviews said the breakfast was a-MAZ-ing. Super fresh. C’mon, you never met a brunch you didn’t like.”

“Fair enough,” Katie admitted. “Okay, we can grab a quick bite, and then we get the hell out of here.”

Sean gave her a bear hug and Katie smiled. Against all odds, the weekend had been a success.

*             *             *

As they finished breakfast – Katie had to admit, the best they’d ever had – she began planning the rest of her Sunday. She’d hit the nail salon and get a manicure, do the week’s laundry, run to the grocery store. Log in and get some work done. There was still plenty of time to take care of errands before Monday.

“Thanks for the wonderful breakfast, Karen,” Sean said to their hostess. “Everything was absolutely delicious.”

Karen smiled and she looked down bashfully at the table. “I’m so glad you enjoyed it.”

“So,” Katie said, “We’ll be checking out in a moment. Should we just meet you here to give you the key?”

Karen looked at Katie, all the joy from a moment ago drained from her face.

“What do you mean? You’re not staying for church?”

Katie and Sean glanced at one another. A moment passed, the silence uncomfortable.

“Um,” Sean began.

“We have to get back to Philly,” Katie said. “Pick up our dogs from the pet sitter.”

“I see,” Karen said. She stared at Sean, sensing his discomfort. “That’s very disappointing. I’m sure your pet sitter wouldn’t mind if you joined us for just a short while?”

The silence lingered.

“Well, maybe just a minute,” Sean said.

Katie’s eyes narrowed and she envisioned gouging Sean’s eyes out with her pre-manicured thumbs. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. “Fine,” she said, a pained smile on her face. “Just a minute.”

“Wonderful,” Karen said, looking Katie in the eye. “Service begins in 20 minutes. Why don’t you grab your things, check out, and then head over to the barn.”

*             *             *

After packing their bags in fuming silence and loading the car with more force than necessary, Katie and Sean took a seat in the last pew in the barn.

This is fucking ridiculous. I should take the car and leave him here, Kate thought.

What did she expect me to do? We don’t even have dogs, Sean thought.

Approximately 15 people sat sprinkled in various pews. One man, head wrapped in a bandana, wore a tattered jean jacket emblazoned with a Pagans patch on the back.

I cannot believe I’m in a barn, attending church, with a probable murderer, Katie thought. Jesus fucking Christ.

The drive home is going to be a nightmare, Sean thought, glancing sideways at Katie. She’s so pissed.

Why are we sitting here? We are literally never going to see any of these people again. We owe them nothing. LET’S GO, SEAN.

She wished Sean could read her thoughts just then, that the two of them could stand up together and quietly leave. That they could just skip to the part where they were laughing about their ridiculously bizarre weekend getaway. She wished that he would stop trying to make everyone on the planet happy. That he would realize he could never succeed at making everyone happy. That he would care more about her happiness than some random stranger’s.

Instead, they sat in the last pew while the minister rambled on, a disorganized chorus belted out the occasional phrase and the Pagan tugged on his beard. Sean tried to be respectful, participating where he could. Katie used her iPhone’s data plan to Google Divorce Lawyers in Philadelphia.

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