The sky was unseasonably overcast. Maggie Wight and her parents made the thousand-and-some mile drive up from Panama City, Florida, but ran into trouble finding their destination—that is, they couldn’t. Rook’s Harbor, Massachusetts wasn’t on the road map. All the roads that led to and from the town were there, but on the map appeared to connect straight through with the outbound roads. They checked the road signs, all of which had one space missing. They stopped at gas stations along the way and asked for directions, but no one was willing to tell them the exact location of their destination. They seemed almost afraid to.
Then, just as the family was all about fed up with driving, Mrs. Wight pointed out the car window and said, “Look! There’s a little town. Let’s stop there. Maybe they have a restaurant.”
Mr. Wight pulled the car onto an off-ramp and drove down the small road, which was strangely neglected, starting as broken road and ending up dust and dirt. The car stopped at a steel bridge heavily rusted in places, with moss growing on the sides where river water constantly pelted the metal.
Cautiously, Mr. Wight eased the car onto the bridge, which groaned in protest at the sudden weight. The entire family sat tense until the car made it safely across the veritable deathtrap. They drove past a sign, heavily weathered and partially covered with moss and lichen. Maggie could just make out the words: “Welcome to Rook’s Harbor.”
“We’re here!” she yelled.
“That was lucky,” her mother remarked.
“See? I told you it would work out,” Mr. Wight said cheerfully.
Driving slowly into town, the first thing they noticed was that everything—the buildings, the cars, even the people—looked as if it had never progressed past the 1930s. Maggie overheard her parents making note of this strange fact, but she didn’t pay attention to what they were saying. She felt a certain pang in her stomach at the way the locals stared mistrustfully at the car.
“Here we are!” she heard her father announce as the car pulled up to an old brick building. A sign hanging from the brickwork above the door proclaimed, “Rook’s Harbor Hotel.”
Maggie suddenly got a very bad feeling.
Mr. Wight carried their luggage into the lobby and rang the service bell a few times. The desk clerk raised his head from an old open ledger like a hungry eel stalking its prey. He eyed the Wights for a few seconds, and then lazily inquired, “Do you have a … reservation?”
“We certainly do!” Mr. Wight agreed happily. “Uh, name’s Wight.”
The clerk slid back over to the ledger and perused the list of names until he found Wight. Silently, he took a key off the rack of hooks behind him and held it out. His eyes fell upon Maggie.
She shuddered. Something about the man’s appearance deeply unsettled her. His eyes were too wide; his mouth was wide and cruel; his skin had a peculiar clamminess unlike sweat. His clothing was antiquated, outdated; his hair was lank and oily.
“Have a nice day,” he drawled as the family turned to the single staircase that led to upper floors. A man in a bellhop uniform stepped through an adjacent doorway to help Mr. Wight with the luggage. His face and skin had the same uncanny features but with a blank gaze affording him a dim appearance.
Once in their room and once the bellhop had left with Mr. Wight’s generous tip, the family began to inspect their living quarters. The wallpaper was an aged and outdated, faded sort of pink pinstripe; the bathroom had a single crackled porcelain tub and stained sink; there was no television—in its place a sagging writing desk; and the window overlooked the bleak, brackish water of Rook’s Harbor.
“That guy gave me the creeps,” Maggie said.
“The man at the front desk? Well, people can’t help the way they look,” her mother called from the other room.
“Hey, I know moving to a new town is tough,” Mr. Wight spoke up. “But trust me, kiddo. You’re gonna love it here.”
Maggie smiled and shook her head. “I wish I could believe you, Dad.”