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The Water Tanks by Hila Stana – Winner of the 2023 Teen Writing Contest – Short Story

A huge thank you to all who took the time to enter the 2023 Solano County Library Teen Writing Contest!

We were honored to read your work, and encourage each of you to continue writing.

Please enjoy the winning entry below!

SHORT STORY WINNER

The Water Tanks by Hila Stana

          Before me stood a tall structure, boasting approximately 14 stories. Its facade bore the marks of time, with peeling paint and a musty odor emanating from the adjacent alleyway, testifying to its age. Prominently positioned at its center was a sizable yellow sign bearing the name Cecil Hotel. Contrary to the opulence depicted in photographs, the hotel’s actual appearance was far from luxurious. I go by the name Usnia, pronounced Osnia, and I am from Turkey living in Canada with my parents. I was traveling around the United States of America. My parents objected but I insisted. I had traveled to all 50 states and Los Angeles was the last city before heading home.

          As I entered the building, the fragrance of lavender hit my nose, and a lady with dark hair and vibrant purple lipstick at the front desk raised her gaze to acknowledge my presence. Looking around, I noticed the hotel was empty and had a melancholic feel. The beauty, however, was undeniable with marble floors and stained-glass windows. In the center of the hotel lobby was a woman whose eyes were fixated on me as I made my way towards her.

          “Hi! How may I help you?” Her unnaturally wide grin and eerily dilated eyes sent shivers down my spine, leaving me momentarily speechless as I struggled to muster a response.

          “Oh uhm, hi I checked out a room online.”

          “Oh alright, what is your name?”

          “Usnia Yildiz.”

          “Ah yes, your room number is 503 on the fifth floor, here are your keys.”

          “Ok, thank you so much.” I walked away awkwardly, feeling her stare on the back of my head.

          My room paled in comparison to the opulent lobby. The wallpaper clung to the walls as if clinging to life, and the space was cramped, with just one window that offered a stark contrast between the vibrant, sunlit outside and the room’s dreary interior. A modest twin bed, a diminutive nightstand, and a barely functioning lamp were the room’s sparse furnishings. I had settled in Los Angeles for a short stay, necessitating the unpacking of my luggage. As I began, I unfortunately discovered that my anti-psychotic medication had spilled everywhere, likely during the jostling of my bags during transit. A while back, I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression and I have been relying on numerous prescriptions since. Fortunately, my antidepressants were intact and I was assured that I would manage.

           As day passed and it became night, I remained working on an essay on my laptop with a looming deadline. I had already consumed three cups of coffee, and my back ached from the hours of sitting. The hotel, wrapped in an unsettling silence, allowed for distant murmurs from nearby rooms to infiltrate my awareness. Suddenly, there were footsteps, loud footsteps.

          My room occupied the far end of the hallway, and the approaching footsteps grew louder and louder. Struggling to concentrate on my essay, I tried to push aside the creeping unease, but an eerie intuition urged me to escape. Suddenly, there was  forceful pounding on my door and I jumped. I slowly approached the door and peeked into the peephole – nothing was in sight. I felt a chill run down my spine and walked backwards cautiously when I felt a presence behind me. Without hesitation, I ran. I ran out of my room and into the elevator.  Panic surged as I repeatedly pressed all the buttons, watching the numbers on the display ascend slowly—5, 6. As the elevator doors began to close, the menacing figure had disappeared from view, and I breathed a sigh of relief. The figure was disturbingly familiar; I remembered encountering it six years ago. I had attempted to tell everyone yet no one believed me. The apparition was around 8 feet tall with no face characteristics but scary crimson eyes. The elevator doors moved again, indicating 8, 9, and then they opened again, revealing emptiness.

          Suddenly, the last door at the end of the hall creaked open, and a grotesque creature emerged, moving on all fours. It was emaciated, with its ribs visible, long and jagged teeth, and vacant white eyes that bore into mine. I stood frozen, and the creature remained there, an eternity encapsulated in those moments. Then, with a sudden burst of speed, it lunged toward me. I lunged at the elevator’s call buttons, pounding 10 relentlessly, my desperation evident in my efforts to hasten the doors’ closure. The door inched shut, the monstrous entity closing the distance. My heart threatened to burst from my chest as the creature leaped at the elevator door. Thankfully, the door sealed shut, sparing my life. My legs gave way, and I crumpled to the floor, the nightmarish scene replaying in my mind, etched in horrifying detail.

          I resumed regular breathing and reached for the elevator handle to pull myself up from the floor. The elevator door began to open slowly on the tenth floor, and I held my breath, fearing the presence of a monstrous creature on the other side. To my surprise, it wasn’t the monster but that mysterious figure awaiting me. It fixed its unsettling red gaze on me, drawing nearer and nearer. It reached its hand to grasp me, but I swerved and rushed out of the elevator. I ran as quickly as I could till I arrived at the fire escape entrance.

          With every ounce of strength in my body, I forced the door open and swiftly ascended the fire escape ladders, refusing to glance downward. I reached the rooftop in a state of panic, realizing there were no hiding spots except for the water tanks. I contemplated taking refuge there until the threat subsided, planning to swim up later for my escape. However, doubt crept in, and I pondered,

          “What if this leads to my demise?”

          Suddenly, I felt a hand on my ankle and when I looked down, I saw a figure looking back at me. I kicked desperately and sprinted towards the water tanks. Climbing up the ladder of the tanks, I jumped in. I was surprised to find myself in water lower than expected with the opening out of reach. The figure loomed outside, peering down at me. For the first time, it displayed an expression—a sinister smirk. In that moment, it dawned on me that the figure was a creation of my own imagination, and I realized that I had brought about my own downfall.

 

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