Eight years ago the captain of the Baltimore detective squad dropped a file on my desk. It was a missing person and possible homicide. Brad Crowley, a 32 year-old white male, had disappeared a week earlier. There was no evidence of a crime, and it was usually department policy to not put too many resources on a case like that. Nine times out of ten a person goes missing because they want to go missing; not because a crime has been committed.
Brad Crowley’s father was convinced his son would not just take off and abandon his wife and child, and was of the opinion that an investigation had to happen, and quickly. Brad Crowley’s father also happened to be one of the richer men in the state of Maryland, and friends of the Mayor of Baltimore. So I was instructed to investigate.
People have gotten so used to charging things, and they do it out of reflex. The wonderful thing about that is you can know when and where someone was just by studying their monthly statements. You would be amazed by how much detective work comes down to looking though people’s credit card and phone bills. The first thing that really jumped out at me was how much Brad Crowley was spending on flowers. He bought flowers nearly every week. This didn’t sound like the kind of man who would run out on his wife; unless the flowers were for someone else.
The Crowleys lived in the affluent part of town, in an immaculate looking three story home. Mrs. Crowley herself opened the door. “Yes? Can I help you?” She was in her mid-thirties and attractive.
I showed her my badge. “Mrs. Crowley, I am investigating the disappearance of your husband—“
She held up a hand stopping me. “He’s not missing. He’ll be back. I didn’t report him missing.”
“Mr. Crowley’s father actually reported him missing.” I tell her.
“You’re wasting your time. We had a fight, when he gets over it, he’ll come back. He always does.”
I pry information out of her for the next ten minutes. The entire time she pushed me to drop the whole matter. Eventually I thanked her for her time and turned to walk away. Before she closed the door I thought of one more question. “When was the last time Brad gave you flowers?”
Her neutral face turned into a frown. “It’s been months. It’s one of the things we argued about. Why do you ask?”
“Brad has always had trouble keeping it in his pants, but he wound never leave without talking to me first. Never.” He insisted.
My Captain told me to keep investigating and I dug through Brad’s credit card receipts. I found a charge to an Inn in Maine: the Trading Post Inn.
I was only able to find one number for the Inn, the number for reservations. I left several messages, but no one returned my calls. Frustrated I called the local PD. I had a little more luck reaching an actual person, but they were not very forth-coming with information. Days went by without any new leads, so I decided I needed to take a trip to Maine.
The management for the Inn turned out to be in a separate building from the Inn itself. I was finally able to talk to someone and confirm that Brad Crowley and Rachel Summers had come to the Inn two weeks earlier, but had checked out. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary according to the man who acted as innkeeper. I demanded to see their room and talk to some of the other guests.
“Almost everyone has checked out already.” The innkeeper informed me. “Today is checkout, and people tend to leave early.”
There was only one guest left, an attractive young woman wearing an oversized t-shirt and shorts. The t-shirt hung on her like a tent, but even so I could tell she had a killer figure. She was eighteen or nineteen at the most. Her eyes were red from crying, and she didn’t want to talk to me.
“Miss, I’m a Detective from Balimore. I’m searching for a missing man. Would you answer some questions?”
She was still for a long time, but reluctantly nodded yes.
I took out my notepad. “What is your name?”
“S-Stormy. Stormy Myers.” She sniffled.
I pulled out a photo of Brad Crowley and showed it to her. She stared at it.
“Stormy, I’m looking for this man.”
“Was he with a woman? When did he leave?” I ask.
She sighs and hands me back the photo. “Yes, he was with a woman. He left about a week ago.”
“Do you know where he went?”
She crossed her arms and shook her head no.
“Stormy, I need to get your contact information in case I have further questions.” I hand her my notebook and a pen. She just stares at it for a second, and then walks over to a purse and takes out a piece of paper and studies it. I look over her shoulder and the piece of paper already had her contact info; she copied it into my notebook.
“Can you put a work number as well?” I ask.
She looks at me funny. “I don’t know what it is.”
“Then just the name of the business.”
She writes something and hands me back my notebook. I look it over. “You work at ‘the Ultimate Play Pen’? Are you a dancer Stormy?”
“Apparently.” She seemed close to tears again.
I left her, and headed to room five; Brad Crowley’s room. Things about this case were already screwy at this point, but when I entered room five I had stepped right into the twilight zone. Brad’s luggage was still there in the room. Along with a letter.
The several page letter didn’t make a lot of sense. It was addressed “To the new Brad Crowley”. The note went on describing Brad’s life; it listed names of loved ones, talked about what he did for a living, where important documents were located. It read like an instruction book.
The letter was signed “The real Brad Crowley” and there was a ‘ps’ after the signature. It read “I’ll get in touch after I am settled with some contact information. I don’t know if I am going to my new life’s home or not. I have nowhere else to go.”
I put the letter in a plastic evidence bag. Could the letter be some sort of weird suicide note?
I take my time and go over the room with a careful eye. I considered asking the innkeeper to keep the room empty, but there was still no real sign of a crime. Sure, the luggage and letter was odd, but it wasn’t enough.
Stormy stuck her head in the door. “I’m leaving.” She announced.
“Thanks. If I need anything I’ll be in touch.” I say to her.
She stands there, looking at me. I get the impression she’s struggling with telling me something.
“Is there something we need to talk about?” I ask her.
She nods her head no. “Don’t stay here.” She says finally.
“Leave here as soon as you can.” She takes her voice to a whisper. “There is something wrong with this place. It’s evil.”
I nearly laughed out loud. It was like a line out of a bad movie.
“I’ll be careful.” I assured her as she walked away.
An hour later new guests started showing up to the Inn. I walked back over to the Innkeeper’s office and told him about the luggage that was left behind.
“Happens all the time.” I was assured.
I glanced at my watch. It was a quarter after six; it was going to be a bitch trying to get back to Boston to catch a train to Balimore. Besides, I still wanted to talk to the local PD.
The innkeeper noticed me looking at my watch. “It doesn’t happen often,” The Inn keeper says to me, “But we’ve had a cancellation. I could get you an excellent rate for the night.”
“I don’t suppose I could get room five?” I ask.
“Sorry. That room has been reserved.”
I debate it. Stormy Myers face popped in my head “This place is evil.” I brushed it aside and took up the innkeeper’s offer. I could get up early, I decided, and drive back to Boston then.
By nine o’clock that night the Inn was completely full. I went out for a late dinner and was back by 10:30. I was showered and in bed by 11.
At around 2:30 am I awoke to screaming. I was alert instantly and instinctively reach for my gun. Only I never make it to my gun. The flesh on my arms is moving, flowing. To my horror my arms are shrinking—no, not just my arms—everything about me is rippling, flowing, changing and shrinking. The rules of reality had been ripped away from me and I scream; and I hear the screams of a little girl escape my mouth.
It takes a while, but eventually I collect myself. Long hair seemed to be hanging from my head. The t-shirt I wore to bed was huge on me. The bed was huge. I slide my legs off the side of the bed and my feet don’t reach the floor. I carefully slide myself off the bed and awkwardly walk over to the bathroom and turn on the light. Once adjusted to the light, my eyes confirmed what my other senses were telling me. Standing in the mirror was a cute little girl with long brown hair and big expressive blue eyes.
I found out later that I had been turned into a specific little girl. Her name was Jessica Brooks. She had gone on a trip with her best friend’s family, the Andersons, when she got caught up in the curse of the Inn. The original Jessica had been turned into someone else, and was missing.
Hours later the mystery of the disappearance of Brad Crowley was solved. Like me, the other guests of the Inn were transformed into the forms of the previous guests. The form of Brad Crowley walked out of room five. Only unlike the rest of us, he was not the least upset by what had happened; if anything he seemed pleased. This raised suspicion in me which only grew when Mrs. Crowley showed up to take her “husband” home later that morning. As ‘Brad’ was packing up to leave, I approached them.
“Mrs. Crowley.” My voice was so small and soft, I tried to sound as authoritative as I could, but it was pointless. “Mrs. Crowley, that is not your husband. “
She eyed me coldly. “Who are you?”
I turned red with embarrassment. “Believe it or not, I was the man investigating you husband’s disappearance…”
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. “The detective? You should have listened to me and stopped the investigation. Look at you now, you're adorable.” A smug grin crossed her lips. “Well I guess
you caught me. Only no one will ever believe you. It’s part of the magic of this place.”
“You know about what’s going on?” I demanded an answer. She obviously knew much more than I did about what was going on.
“I was a guest of this Inn five years ago. I’ve became the person I am today because of that stay at the Inn. I became ten years younger and much more attractive; I ‘traded up’. Since then I learned as much as I could about the Inn. When I found out Brad was having an affair I decided he needed a trip to the Inn; I like the wealth and influence of being Mrs. Crowley—I just didn’t want to be married to Brad anymore. I think I’m going to like my new husband much better. Isn’t that right dear.”
‘Brad’ beamed at her. “Absolutely.”
“And maybe the old Brad will learn to like his new life as well. I find the idea of him living the life of a stripper to be very satisfying.”
Stormy Myers. I had found Brad after all.
They gathered Brad’s things and walked out of the Inn. I considered getting my gun and stopping them; but then what was I going to do? Arrest them?
Days pass and bit by bit people started to leave the Inn to assume their new lives. When the ‘Andersons’ were ready to go I had no choice but to go with them. I eventually ended up going “home” to Jessica’s parents. As time went on I had no choice but to live Jessica’s life; but I made a promise to myself. I wasn’t going to claim this life as my own until my 18th birthday. Until then I would keep looking for a way to give Jessica life back to her, and to live as good of a life as I could. I lived by the words “If I only knew then what I know now.” I had 40 years of life experience when I became Jessica, and I was determined not to make the same mistakes I made the first time.
So I studied hard. I pushed myself and I excelled in school the second time through it. I played sports, joined clubs, made friends and tried to be the best person I could possibly be; all the while trying to locate the original Jessica and make things right.
But I’m 18 now. I may be still a teenager, but I am now also an adult.
It’s time I start living for myself.
To the original Jessica Brooks: I’m sorry I never found you.