TITLE: The Ledger Domain
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy/Spy
Fifteen years ago…
The Keaton Motel was a rat-infested hellhole of a place, but it was home. Besides, the owners gave Anna free room and board in exchange for maid service and they didn't check her papers, so she really shouldn't complain. Not that she was an illegal. Or even Hispanic, despite what the owners thought. Her real name was Anna Cate Milano, and she was third-generation Italian American. She was also 17 and on the run from her overbearing Catholic parents, so, her dark complexion--combined with the prejudices of the ignorant-damned hicks that ran the place--was pretty freaking convenient.
Still, she hated Thursdays. Thursdays were the days that she cleaned the chronically abandoned rooms at the end of building, and those empty rooms gave her the creeps. Even though the Keaton Motel was the cheapest place in all of Nacogdoches, people still broke in rather than paying the small hourly rate. The worst hoodlums the tiny East Texas town could scrounge up flocked to the place, and all sorts of crap happened in those rooms, she'd heard. Bodies had been found in there before. That's bodies plural. And this has happened more than once. Not to mention other things... the other maid refused to go over there, and said Anna shouldn't either. "No woman should go there," she insisted.
If only it were that easy. Given Anna's arrangement with the boss, she didn't have a lot of room to be saying no. She suppressed the temptation to run as she headed down the row to room 112. Despite the fondness for beer, short skirts, and sex that caused her to leave her parents and their ridiculous religious rules, she crossed herself before she reached for the door.
Anna's head snapped to the room next door. She knew that sound. Rats. Anna hated rats. Absolutely hated them. It was the worst thing about this place, especially Thursdays. The rats congregated in the abandoned rooms, chewing on the mattresses. On two different occasions, she'd opened a drawer to find one of the scrawny critters glaring up at her. Anna contemplated the room, then decided she'd save it for last.
So, it was two and a half hours later before she finally made it back to 113. Anna's hand hovered over the doorknob as she listened.
Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch.
She could still hear a scuffling from inside. With a suppressed shudder, she went to put the key in the lock. Then, she noticed it. There were scrapings on the keyhole.
Old. Surely, they were old.
She pressed the door and it swung wide, revealing the absolute worst messy room she'd ever seen. Pillows were strewn everywhere. Lamps on the floor, broken. TV shattered. Kicked in? The curtains were hanging half-off the rod, torn at the fasteners. What had happened in here?
She began searching the floor for blood, hoping not to find any. Her heart started racing when she saw a brown stain on the carpet. Then, she realized the bloodstain was an old one that had stubbornly refused to come out. She let out a breath. It was ok. Someone had broken in and partied a little hard in here. It sucked for her, but it was ok. Just another mess to clean. No big deal.
Anna wheeled around, her head full of the sound of her grandmother screaming in Italian. She sort of felt like screaming herself. Gran would tell her to leave this place right now, that it was cursed, that there were demons in here to get her. She listened, on the edge of running.
Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch. Scratch.
It was coming from the tiny thing the motel called a waiting closet. She inched closer to it, grabbing the fallen lamp on her way. Every inch of her body shaking, she opened the crappy sliding door with a snap.
There was nothing there but a pile of woman's clothes. Where had these come from? Somewhere between nervousness and relief, Anna started to reach down and pick up what was actually a very cute top when the pile moved. Anna froze, hand almost touching the shirt. Then, the pile moved again.
Anna flew back against the wall, terrified. Whatever the animal was, it was bigger than a rat. The pile began moving more violently, and the animal began making an odd noise, almost like a child's cry.
Then, she realized it was a child's cry.