Tales From The Park-Side is a series of horrific short stories inspired by places and artifacts that can be found inside a certain little theme park in central Florida. These stories are written by members of the Orlando area entertainment and theme park industry and were curated by Audrey Brown-Willaims.
"Room For One More"
by Stephanie Cannon & Matt Knowles
Wellsley Manor wasn’t always an ominous tourist location. In its turn of the century heyday, it was the venue for lavish parties held by its ubiquitous namesake. Although not much was understood about its proprietor, Mister Wellsley, citizens were undeterred from their wish to attend one of his infamous events. After all, the more mystery that surrounds, the more curious a person becomes.
Coincidentally, it’s with the curiosity of mortals where our tale begins. On this day, two such individuals came to the estate in search of adventure. Eve - enthusiastic and open-minded, had convinced her skeptical other half, Gabe, to embark on a guided tour of the famed mansion. They stood in the eerie foyer with the rest of their group, waiting for it to begin. They marveled over the garish artifacts and trinkets - everything from a real suit of armor to a sconce of a grinning gargoyle whose eyes seemed to follow those who passed.
“Welcome,” a monotone voice bellowed from the back of the room. “My name is William Bartholomew, and I’ll be your host this evening.” His manner of speaking was so strange that it caused many to laugh nervously.
“Please, take a few minutes to explore before we embark on our…” - he paused and looked around the room for dramatic and drawn out effect - “...tour of terror”.
“No one can say he doesn’t get into his part”, Gabe whispered to a distracted Eve, who’d stopped in front of a glass case that held a single paper the size of a greeting card inside.
“Hey, look at this!” she called to him. “It's an invitation to one of his original Halloween parties!”
Gabe wasn’t convinced. “Yeah it’s aged with old-timey lettering, but it’s clearly a prop. Do you think a REAL invitation would have a hologram of people dancing on it?”
“Oh, come on, babe,” Eve implored. “Wouldn’t it have been amazing to go to one of these?”
“Wouldn't it though?” A voice from behind them queried.
The surprised couple turned around to find William staring and hovering. “I couldn’t help but overhear, and I’m pleased to tell you, that this is your lucky day.”
Eve’s face lit up as she glanced over at Gabe, who was studying their host with a questioning look.
William continued, “Every tour, we pick individuals to partake in a special behind the scenes opportunity. A VIP experience, if you will.”
“Behind the scenes? Where?” She asked enthusiastically.
William gestured with his hand to the invitation. “To that very ballroom, you just were speaking of. Normally that room is off-limits, but you two will have a very unique chance to delve into it on your own. That is if you so desire. And if you aren't too ...afraid.”
“Afraid?” Gabe scoffed. “There's nothing here that could scare me."
“Yes! We'll do it!" Eve exclaimed. She would not allow Gabe's skepticism to get in the way of the opportunity that was presented.
“Splendid”, William drawled. “Please, follow me”.
He led them to the other end of the room and to a single, almost hidden, door. He swung it open, revealing a hallway, dimly lit by candles in gargoyle sconces.
“Follow this pathway,” he instructed, “and you’ll come to the ballroom in no time”.
The couple stepped through and began their ascent.
PART TWO Once inside the door closed and locked behind them.
“Don’t you think it’s a little odd that we’re allowed to go off on our own like this?” Gabe questioned.
“Maybe?” said Eve, who was practically bouncing as they made their way through, “But that’s what makes it exciting!”
Seemingly out of nowhere, a strong gust of wind blew and extinguished all the candles, plunging them into darkness. Before either of them could exclaim, a single light source appeared before them. Floating in midair all on its own, was a flickering candelabra.
Eve grabbed Gabe’s arm. “Look at how REAL it looks! It’s just floating there!”
“I gotta admit,” Gabe replied in amazement, “I’m not sure how they’re pulling this one-off.”
The candelabra began to float and move further away from them, as though it was being guided by a ghostly arm. The two stared at each other for a moment in disbelief.
“I think we’re supposed to follow it,” she laughed gleefully while guiding Gabe along.
Her naivete slowly faded as they continued to follow the gliding candelabra, however. They walked for quite some time but had seen no change in their surroundings; just more endless hallway.
“Is it me,” she questioned, “or does this feel like it’s going on forever?”
“No, this is definitely weird. We need to get out of this hallwa-- ” Gabe was interrupted by the sight of the candelabra floating directly into the hand of William Bartholemew, who abruptly appeared before them.
“Well hello again, you’re just in time,” their tour guide said as he gestured to an open door. "Please, go in. The festivities are in full swing, but there’s always room for more.”
As soon as he finished uttering those words, Gabe and Eve found themselves inexplicably inside the ballroom, as though they had materialized there. Ethereal music played on its own from an organ in the corner, the keys being pressed by an unseen apparition. Throughout the ballroom, ghostly figures, dressed in Victorian-style clothing, swirled and waltzed to the music.
William’s demeanor was now much more sinister. “I’ve been waiting a long time for a pair like you.”
“What’s this all about?” Gabe asked angrily. Panic began to set in for the two as they scanned the room for a way out, only to find that not only had the door disappeared, but there were no other windows or doors inside.
“I too was once as curious and foolish as you,” their tour guide continued. “But I made a mistake. I disrespected the house, and in turn, Mr. Wellsley.” He glanced upwards at the second-floor balcony that overlooked the ballroom, where the ghostly figure of the old estate owner stood surveying the scene.
“I’ve been here ever since. For how long, exactly? I’ve forgotten. I was told by Mr. Wellsley that my penance was to collect 1000 mortals and bring them to him so that their souls ‘enjoy’ an eternal party with him. Once I did, I could make my own grand exit.”
“And how many have you collected so far?” Eve’s voice shook as she asked the question.
William grinned malevolently. “Nine hundred and Ninety-Eight.”
The music stopped.
The ghostly figures ceased their dancing.
Mr. Wellsley suddenly appeared in front of them.
“Here they are, the last ones!” He maniacally shouted to the party host. “Now please, let me go!”
“So you have,” hissed the ghost. “It was a task I thought impossible, but you have proven your worth. You may depart from here.” The door to the ballroom came into sight once more. William wasted no time in shoving past them and hurling it open. He glanced over his shoulder one last time with a sinister grin, before running through the door.
Eve and Gabe attempted to flee as well but found themselves rooted to the floor and unable to move. “Trying to escape will be futile,” Wellesley’s ghost told them. “You are to stay here, but you may earn your own departure once you have found me one thousand more souls to join the party.”
With that, the door closed and vanished. The music started up again. The ghosts began to dance, and Eve and Gabe stood helplessly realizing their fate.
Outside, dark clouds started to envelop the sky. But it was the first light of day William Bartholomew had seen in quite some time. He stood for a moment taking it all in just as the latest group came walking up to the estate.
“Excuse me, are you our tour guide?” one of the tourists asked.
William chuckled. “Oh no, I’m off duty, but you’ll find yours inside. You’re the last group of the day, but don’t worry, there’s always room for more. Here’s something that could be of interest.”
With a raised eyebrow, the excited patron looked at the aged and crumpled invitation he’d placed in their hand. “Do you guys see this? It looks like the people are looking right at me!”
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