The night the sign came back on at the Tower Hotel, BritBrit407 was out scouting locations for her next video. It hadn’t been lit for decades, so seeing the inside would be a treat for her 800k followers. The twenty-something blonde creaked open the fancy front door.

 

It was, actually, a dark and stormy night. Occasional lightning illuminated a lobby full of the long-forgotten. Suitcases and hats, newspapers and keys. It was practically…cluttered. The Florida humidity made the ornate old room feel heavy.

 

Next to enter were Esther and Fred, a married couple in their early seventies. They wore matching red ball caps. They spoke to each other, sharing intimate opinions in volumes loud enough for everyone present to hear. Loud enough for low-flying commercial airplanes to hear. “You know what I think?” Esther would start. After that signifier would come rude opinions and not-so-thinly-veiled insults to anyone who differed from her in any way. Weight. Height. Appearance. Nothing was off the table.

 

“You know what I think?” Esther asked.

 

“What?” said Fred.

 

“If they’re splitting this place into condos, we better get in here quick before anyone from out of town tries to snap them up.” She emphasized the words out of town as she peered over her glasses at Fred.

 

BritBrit407 whispered directly into the lens of her phone, “They’re like the couple from Up, except I don’t care about them. At all,” BritBrit407 was shiny in every way, from her long wavy hair to her sparkly channel logo. She winked into the lens, then panned around the musty old lobby.

 

Meg was next. She was a woman of means. She communicated this via her short-cropped hair in the back that curved into a longer bob in front. That and her designer handbag. Meg sat at the tip top of her pyramid scheme, but you wouldn’t want to call it that around her. She sniffed the air and grimaced. “Do you think they’re pumping this smell in here? They have to be, right?”

 

Esther, Fred, and Brit just looked at her. Nobody introduced themselves.

 

 “Why would they do that?” Brit asked.

 

“Atmosphere,” said Meg. The other three simply continued to stare. Meg took a long, loud sigh. She continued, “If this is some kind of planned thing, they’re probably doing an old-timey, haunted pop up.” Meg suddenly recognized Brit. She stared down the barrel of the lens, “You know, with your influence, you could make a fortune on my team. I replaced my whole income with just a $100 investment.”

 

Britney grimaced at her, “You know what? I think I do smell something.”

 

Meg rolled her eyes, “Your loss.”

 

Nobody noticed the last person, who followed quietly during their exchange, carrying a large flashlight. He should’ve been noticeable, from the jingle of keys attached to his belt to his impressive height. Six foot three, without shoes, the elderly Robert was nothing if not noticeable. He cleared his throat. They finally looked his way. “Can I ask you folks what you’re doing here?”

 

Fred pointed up as he spoke, “The sign. Thought maybe this old place had reopened.”

 

“No,” Robert replied as he shined the light directly into Fred’s eyes.

 

“Get that outta my face!” Fred spat.

 

Brit chimed in, “Who can I talk to about getting some ghost-hunters in here?” Robert’s light found her next.

 

Meg shushed them all and stepped forward. “I’m sorry, this is probably above your pay grade. May we speak to the manager?” She winced as the bright beam finally landed in her eyes.

 

Robert laughed, low and gravely, for a suspiciously long time. “So you saw the lights, huh?” They all nodded. “Haven’t you heard the stories?”

 

Brit replied, “Urban legends, yeah. This place is like a magnet for cursed objects.”

 

Robert turned off his flashlight. “Nobody turned the sign on, it’s as dead as it’s always been. So if you saw the sign…”

 

Everyone’s eyes grew wide. Britney threw her phone at the ground. Meg dropped her bag. Fred and Esther discarded their hats.

 

Robert laughed again. “You’re half right. It’s a magnet, but not for cursed objects. So funny to me. Every time we get a new batch, people always seem to know…what makes them…the way they are.”

 

Robert walked toward the exit and slammed the doors shut, leaving everyone in the dark.

© Audrey Brown 2020