Caitlyn had combed every square inch of the dusty base, looking for the last person on her list, and with twenty-one minutes left before Gaera’s deadline, she was getting desperate. Tatyana Volkova had vanished, and for a woman with flaming red hair, that was no mean feat in a place where the prominent colour was beige. She wasn’t surprised, Tatyana had been trained in espionage and disguise after all. It was those skills and various others that had Caitlyn scrambling after a ghost, hoping to secure her before Mellor did. She stood staring at the carpark, trying to work out where she hadn’t search yet when a fast-moving shadow caught her attention. She looked up just in time to see a flash of blond hair disappearing across the roof of the mess hall. There was only one blond on base who preferred heights to the ground and he’d know where to find Volkova. Caitlyn jogged after him, following the shadow as it moved from building to building. Running between the barracks, she spotted a brunet standing in a doorway, grey-blue eyes watching the rooftops, a comm piece in his ear. She sprinted the short distance between them and clapped a hand over his mouth. “Not a word Barnes,” she hissed. “Hand it over.” She held out her hand, curling her fingers around the offered comm piece. Removing the hand from his mouth, she added, “Where’s Denton?” One thing she’d learnt in the last forty odd hours was that where one Brooklyn boy was found, the second wasn’t far behind. The lopsided grin he flashed in her direction confirmed her hunch, and almost had her reconsidering his inclusion in her team. That grin had trouble written all over it. “Next barrack over, and he’s wearing a comm.” “Thanks, Sergeant” Caitlyn called, spinning on her heel and jogging in the direction she had last seen Killman’s shadow. She shoved the comm in her ear, listening to the conversation with a grin. “Managed to lose her, Yana. On my way to you now.” “She’s definitely not following?” “Nah, I led her on a goose chase down to the carpark. Barnes and Denton are on the ground keeping an eye out, you’ll have warning if she shows.” “Haven’t seen her come past me yet and this is the only way she can go.” Denton’s deep voice rumbled through the line. Caitlyn slid to a halt at the corner of the building and watched Captain Denton pacing the small gap, his back to her as he watched Killman leap between the two buildings. With Killman’s heavy breathing coming through the comms, the tall blond didn’t hear Caitlyn walk up behind him and flip the comm from his ear. “You’re slipping Denton” she called with a grin, jogging past him, ‘accidentally’ kicking the comm further into the sand. Caitlyn was no longer relying on following a shadow, there was only one place Killman could be heading, and with fifteen minutes left on her deadline, she needed to be quick. Killman started talking again as she ran. “So why are you hiding from the Major again? Don’t you want to join us?” “Of course I do, I just wanted to see what she’s got. You do realise she’s on a time frame to organise her Strike Team.” “And you’re planning on ruining that for her.” Barnes smooth voice sent a shiver down Aria’s spine – oh shit, she was going to be in so much trouble with Barnes on her team. “Not really, her reputation did proceed her, I just want to see what she’ll do to get what she wants. I also know she’s not as hard arsed as Mellor. “You do know she’s listening to this conversation right?” Caitlyn could hear a grin in Barnes’ voice as Killman and Volkova answered with
and Denton chuckled “Shit, she got you too JD ?” “Who the Hell is JD ?” Caitlyn asked, sprinting the last few meters to the medical wing, the only building in this direction she hadn’t checked. “That would be me” Barnes rambled down the line. Caitlyn blinked, “How do you get JD out of Phillip Barnes?” “Wouldn’t you like to know,” Barnes answered with a smirk in his voice, as a petite, flaming red-haired woman stepped out of the shadows Caitlyn folded her arms across her chest, and raised an eyebrow slightly, “So do I pass Volkova?” There was a slight shrug. “You’ll do. You did get past Barnes, which I wasn’t expecting. How did you find me?” “I followed the other sniper, who couldn’t pull off a Peter Pan if he tried.” “Huh?” Killman and Denton asked. There was a snort as Barnes said, “She followed your shadow dumb arse. Don’t you know any classics?” Tatyana’s face broke into a wide grin. “Guess you better go tell Gaera you have your team.” “On my way. Meeting in the mess at 1500 hours. Someone want to go find Rasmussen, Young, Kauffman and Nelson for me?” “What, a question, not orders?” Killman asked, his head appearing over the edge of the building behind Caitlyn. “I’m not your CO yet,” Caitlyn grinned and walked off towards the command centre, confident she’d picked the best people for her strike team if this exercise was anything to go by.
This story is a part of a blog hop anthology all taking place within the WFGC Hotel. You can see the full list of stories in this blog hop anthology here:
We arrived at the hotel tree at the buttcrack of dawn, thanks to my dad’s strict scheduling.
“It said in the brochure that early check-ins get a special door prize!” he reminded me as we headed to the front desk. A large sign behind the front desk read Woodland, Faire, and Goblin Creatures Hotel. A balding goblin with wired spectacles sat at the desk, drumming his long, bony fingertips on the smooth surface.
As far as humanside accommodations went, I had to admit this one was a sight better than some of the other places my dad had dragged me to on our annual father-son trips. The leaves of the evergreen tree we resided in were a deep, verdant green with thick fronds to conceal guests from any human onlookers. The leaves crisscrossed in curved patterns around the lobby, leaving a pathway for patrons to walk across the lobby level tree branch. I was relieved that the pathway was roomy enough for our claws; sometimes, these places catered too much to fairies, leaving their non-airborne guests to balance on spindly, twig tightropes.
Once we’d reached the front, my dad slapped a paw down on the desk, startling the goblin from his stupor.
“Hrrrgh, what did you do that for?” the goblin grumbled, removing his glasses and polishing them with a stained handkerchief. A nametag on his lapel read “Grimp, Reception.” Grimp squinted his beady eyes at my father, then at me.
“We’re the Turnwitzes, here to check in! I’m Mr. Turnwitz and this is my son, Ferdinand.” Dad squeezed my shoulder. I raised a paw in a half-hearted ‘hello.’
Grimp scowled, shoving the spectacles back on his face. “Chipmunks, hmm? Check in isn’t until eleven. You’ll have to wait in the lobby until then.”
He turned away and shuffled some papers. Meanwhile, my dad reached inside his coat and pulled out a brochure that had been creased and folded so many times it was barely legible.
“Excuse me, sir,” my dad said, “But your brochure clearly states that guests who check in early will receive a special prize. See here.” He shoved the brochure up to Grimp’s crooked nose.
Not wanting to be a part of whatever scene my dad was sure to cause, I backed away from the front desk and wandered around the lobby. Several branches led out from the lobby to human viewing areas where staff fairies cast shield charms so tourists could freely gawk at the humans without being seen. In the center of the tree and extending upwards, holes had been bored into the trunk to create rooms. I wondered which room was ours. All I wanted to do was get in a nice, comfy pine needle bed and take a nap before my dad started trying to ‘bond’ with me.
As I stared up at the trunk, a fairy flew out from one of the rooms several levels above, twirling in lazy figure-eight motions as she made her way down to the lobby. I watched in admiration. I’d always envied fairies’ ability to fly. Oh, the many times I had wished I could just take to the sky whenever I wanted.
The fairy saw me watching her and gave me a coy smile. I looked away, embarrassed. Fairies were notoriously flirtatious.
I focused on the front desk and saw that my dad was heading back this way, waving several slips of paper in the air.
“Ah, there you are,” my dad said. “Got everything straightened out. That receptionist tried to give me some story about the brochure being outdated… but once I challenged him to find an expiration date on the brochure, he finally caved. Gave me some free human viewing coupons.”
He handed me one of the slips of paper. Scrawled across the front were the words “Radeem for free hooman show” in messy cursive. I was pretty sure the viewings had been free to begin with, but I didn’t want to spoil my dad’s enthusiasm.
“Cool,” I said. “So can we go up to our room yet?”
“Oh yes. The receptionist said, and I quote: ‘If it will get you out of my hair, you and your son can take room twelve.’” My dad laughed. “Of course, I took it for the joke it was. Never met a goblin who was so confident about his receding hairline.”
In our room, my dad set about making the room “cozy.” He patted and fluffed the pine needles we’d be sleeping on, then took out the acorn shell bowls we’d brought from home and placed them on a small table in the corner. There was a fire pit in the center of the room, but it was unlit and filled with ashes.
“Bit chilly in here,” he commented. “I’m going to see if one of those staff fairies will cast a fire charm for us. Be back in a jiff!”
As soon as he was gone, I collapsed onto the pine needles, sinking into the carefully-crafted pile my dad had created.
I dreamt that I was back home in the forest, only things looked different. For one thing, I was flying; for another thing, every tree in the forest had become an evergreen identical to the one we were staying in now.
As I sailed over the treetops, I spotted Grimp the receptionist standing out on one of the tree limbs. He was wearing my dad’s favorite apron made of a bit of birch bark; it had been threaded through at the top in two places with the stem of a wildflower so that it hung around his neck.
Grimp called out to me, “Time for lunch, son.”
I flew on past, but a few trees later, Grimp was there again, wearing the same apron.
“Time for lunch!”
Soon, every tree was filled with Grimps, all talking at me. My arms grew weak and I fell, spiraling toward the forest floor.
“Ferdinand, it’s time for lunch!” My dad shook me awake.
I sat up groggily, brushing off the pine needles that stuck to my fur.
For lunch, Dad had made a simple dandelion stew with supplies he’d brought from home. I sipped the warm broth at the table as my dad used the light from the green fire charm to peruse the brochure some more.
“There’s a bar on the second level,” he said. “We could go take a look if you like.”
I paused my soup-sipping, intrigued. “Can I get a fermented juice?” If I could tell the other chipmunks my age that I’d finally experienced the light-headed giddiness of a fermented beverage like all of them had, this trip might not be a total waste.
“Mmmm…” my dad considered. “In another year, perhaps. But I’m sure it will be a sight to see nonetheless.”
I scowled. “Fine. You go on ahead, I’ll catch up with you later.”
“You sure? Well, alright then. Make sure you put out that fire charm before you leave. And don’t forget, there’s a human viewing show later tonight! You don’t want to miss it.” Dad gave me a kiss on the forehead, same as he’d done ever since I was a baby chipmunk, and headed out of the room.
I slurped up the rest of the soup and put out the fire charm by smothering it with some of the pine needles from the bed. I considered laying back down, but I really wasn’t tired anymore. Yawning and scratching at an itch on my back right above my tail, I wandered out of the room and down the branchway.
A streak of purple light collided with the side of my head. I lurched sideways, only saved from falling off the branchway by the reflexive actions of my tail to restore my center of gravity.
The same fairy girl I’d seen earlier glided over to me, shaking away the remnants of purple magic from her slender fingers.
“Ooooh, I’m so sorry little guy,” she said, brushing pale, blonde bangs from out in front of her almond-brown eyes. “I was practicing my boomerang charm. I didn’t see you walking by.”
The fur on my tail rose. I resisted the urge to reach back a paw to tamp it down. “Funny how you call me little,” I said. “I doubt you even pass three inches.”
The fairy girl brought a hand up to her mouth, not quite hiding an amused smirk.
“Two and a quarter. And I’m sorry… again. I’ve never been good at telling the ages of woodlins like yourself.”
Woodlins. It was a term I’d only heard outside the forest.
The fairy grimaced. “Did I offend you again? Look. I’m sure you’d call me a fairy and not a faire creature, right?”
“It’s fine,” I said, shaking my head. “Just not used to it. I’m Ferdinand.”
“I go by Thea,” she said with a crooked grin. I’d always thought of fairies as being elegant and graceful, but this Thea seemed a bit… well, odd.
“So how old are you then, Ferdinand?” Thea asked.
“I’m sixteen,” I said, straightening up to my full height.
“Neat! I’m 312 myself,” Thea said breezily. I must have looked shocked, because Thea laughed. Her wings buzzed at a higher frequency when she laughed, and she rose another inch into the air until we were face to face. “Just kidding. We live a long time, but not that long. I just turned seventeen last week.”
“Are you here with your parents?” I asked, then immediately chastised myself. Not everyone is as lame as you.
Thea laughed again, her wings buzzing with merriment. “You’re a funny one, Ferdy. Say, I have an idea. Have you ever seen a shield charm?”
“Yeah,” I said with a shrug. Having been to more humanside hotels than I could count, I was kind of over the novelty of it.
“Well, have you ever had one cast on yourself?” Thea asked. She grinned at my expression. “Didn’t think so. We’re going to have some fun today, Ferdy.”
A fairy casting a shield charm on a non-magical being was generally frowned upon, so I brought Thea back to our room so noone would see. She oohed and aahed at the acorn bowls, calling them “rustic” and “quaint,” until I told her that my dad could be back at any time.
“Okay. Stand still.” Thea hovered in front of me, making small circles with her wrists. A white light formed in the center of her palms. I didn’t realize I was shifting back and forth on my feet until Thea gave me a look.
“I said stand still. This isn’t easy, you know.”
I stopped moving and waited as Thea brought up her palms, coaxing the white light forward and onto my fur. The light tickled, but I resisted the urge to giggle or move away. Instead I focused on Thea’s face. Her slight brows were furrowed in concentration, and her small, pink tongue protruded from the corner of her mouth. I had never seen a fairy so close-up before; despite their size, they were remarkably similar in appearance to humans, although they had a certain luminescence to their skin that no human possessed.
“There. Done.” Thea sighed and shook the white light from her fingers. “Phew! That was tougher than I thought it would be.”
I looked down at myself and saw… well, not nothing exactly. There was a faint outline of my fur still visible, but it was like I had become translucent. If someone were to stare right at me, they might know something was up. But if I stood in the shadows or out of others’ direct lines of sight, I would be very nearly invisible.
“Looks good to me,” I said, feigning nonchalance. “You can put me back the way I was later, right?”
Thea hmmmed, then shook her head. “It would be better to just let the charm wear off on its own. Since this is the first time I’ve cast a shield on another creature before, I don’t know if I should try removing it without help.”
“You mean you’ve never done this before?” I asked, tail twitching. “I thought fairies cast shield charms all the time!”
“Oh, we do,” Thea said, taking a seat on the floor. She looked tired. “But it’s a lot easier to cast over a large area as a group than it is to do detail work like this.”
“So you can’t cast a shield charm on yourself then?” I wasn’t sure how much fun it would be to walk around invisible by myself.
Thea brightened. “Oh, that’s easy.” And with that, she disappeared.
Well, not entirely. A very faint outline of her was still visible, but if I hadn’t known she was there, I would never have noticed.
“Casting on one’s self is the easiest of all,” Thea said — although it seemed as though her voice were coming from out of thin air.
Suddenly, something grabbed at my paw. I yelped.
“It’s just me, silly,” Thea said. “Come on, let’s go explore!”
At Thea’s suggestion, we made our way up to the second floor where the bar was. I was hoping my dad had moved on from there by now, but I soon spotted him sitting on a raised knot of wood in front of the bar, chatting with the bartender, a burly male fairy with large, sloping wings.
“You know, my son would love to meet you,” he said, talking far too loudly. Dad’s voice carried further than he realized. “He’s always been fascinated by fairies. Caught him trying to teach himself to fly off a low-hanging branch at home once — little rascal could’ve hurt himself if I hadn’t intervened!”
Thea giggled. “Is that your dad?” she whispered.
I shook my head. “Let’s just get the stuff and go.”
We snuck around behind the bar, keeping to the shadows. It was still midday, so there weren’t a lot of patrons at the bar yet, but my dad was keeping the bartender plenty distracted. Thea was able to snatch a bottle of fermented juice from a shelf in the corner, and we snuck back out just as the bartender was telling my dad that he needed to go on break.
“Really? But who will top up my peach nectar then? You know, there aren’t any peach trees where we come from, but one time a box of them fell off the back of a truck on the road outside our forest and…”
I hurried away from the bar and down the branchway, pulling Thea along with me.
“Oooh, where are we going?” she asked.
Moments later, we arrived at one of the human viewing areas. Here, the branches opened up onto the human hotel lobby. The lobby was wallpapered in a floral print that, ironically, did nothing to make it feel any less closed-in. Its faded maroon carpet was darkened with stains, and the paint was chipping on the banister lining the stairs. If I could have summed up the scene in a word, it would have been: Underwhelming.
“Ah, a drink with a view,” Thea said. “Good thinking.” The bottle of fermented juice jiggled in the air for a moment, then with a loud pop, the cork flew out. The bottom of the bottle tipped into the air; I watched as liquid surged from the bottle, disappearing abruptly at a point about 3 inches from the ground. The bottle tipped back down, then floated toward me.
“It’s pretty good. Try it!” Thea said.
I took the bottle from her and, as she had done, held it above my head so that the liquid poured into my mouth. It was fizzy and delicious, with a bit of a burning aftertaste.
I wasn’t sure if my lightheadedness was from the drink or just the adrenaline from doing something my dad would disapprove of, but I figured I should take it slow. I held the bottle out and waited for the invisible Thea to take it from me.
She downed the rest of it in a single go.
“Wow,” I said, impressed — and also a little annoyed. “You couldn’t have saved anymore for me?”
“Sorry,” Thea said. “I’m not used to sharing. But hey! I have an idea.”
She popped back into view suddenly, a few inches to the left from where I thought she’d been. Her normally pale face was slightly flushed from the fermented juice.
“What’s your idea?” I asked. Thea didn’t answer. She crossed her eyes and took in a deep breath, then held it.
I walked slightly closer to her. “You okay?”
Thea nodded, but didn’t stop the eye-crossing or breath-holding. It was then that I noticed her nose.
It was starting to glow with an inner light, a sort of concentrated luminescence compared to the rest of her skin. As the glow of her nose grew stronger, the rest of her visible skin dulled.
Is she sick? Or is this just one of those silly things fairies do?
I leaned in — and Thea sneezed all over me.
“Ugh, gross!” I backed away, trying to brush off the particles of… whatever it was that had come out of her. It didn’t look like snot, more like a luminescent dust. No matter what I did, the dust clung to my still-translucent form.
I was concentrating so much on the dust particles that I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I bumped my head on a branch — and realized that I was now hovering an inch off the ground.
“What did you do?” I asked, although the answer was pretty obvious.
Thea clapped her hands together in delight. “Oh, goodie! Now let’s ditch this pine needle stand!” She gestured out to the human hotel lobby.
“No way,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere with you. Let me down from here!”
Thea’s face fell. “But… if we don’t go now, then all my special fairy dust will have been wasted.”
“And whose fault is that?” I accused. I kicked my hind paws back and forth in the air, trying to will them back toward the ground.
“I guess you’re right,” Thea said with a sigh. “I should have asked you first. I just wish it didn’t take so long for the dust to come back.”
She lowered her head, her wings drooping. She looked so forlorn that I couldn’t help but ask:
“How long does it take?”
Thea peered up at me. From this height, she looked even shorter than usual.
Flying didn’t feel like I’d thought it would.
I’d thought I would feel free, finally free from everything holding me back. Free of the forest. Free of my father. Free of myself.
Instead, as Thea led me by the hand in a swooping arc toward the ceiling of the human hotel lobby, all I could think about was not letting go of her tiny, slender fingers. The ground fell away below us, no branch to catch us if we fell.
Thea had assured me that I wouldn’t fall even if I did let go. The fairy dust would keep me afloat. But she was also tipsy, maybe even drunk. Honestly, I didn’t know why I’d agreed to come along.
Ten years, she’d said. How could I waste a gift like that?
We landed on top of the door frame at the entrance to the lobby. Thea and I peered down at a human couple who had just entered and were checking in at the front desk. The female human wore a bright pink hat with several faux feathers sticking out at the top. She clung to the male human’s elbow like sap clings to tree bark.
Having explored the highest branches of many a tree in the forest, a bird’s eye view like this, even of humans, was pretty normal for me. But my father had always taught me to keep a safe distance from humankind.
Thea, however, had no such reservations.
“Come on!” she whispered — and dragged me down off the door frame. A few terrifying moments of freefalling later, we landed in the pile of soft, pink, feather-like material in the human female’s hat. I worried that the human would notice something had landed on her head, but she was too busy complaining.
“Richard, this place is positively ghastly,” she remarked as she and the male human walked away from the front desk and up the stairs to the second floor, with Thea and me along for the ride. “How long did you say we have to stay here?”
“Just until the morning, dear,” Richard replied. “Then we’ll be on our way to the estate.”
“Thank heavens. I will just have to wait to eat until tomorrow. I don’t trust the food here. Did you know, earlier, I thought I saw a goat walking into the lobby restroom? I’m sure I had to have imagined it, but–”
Thea tapped me on the shoulder. We flew out of our feathery retreat and along the hallway, the female human and her male counterpart’s voices fading in the distance. I found that flying was a little easier now, and also that I was able to make out Thea’s outline well enough to follow her as she bounced along the hallway, flitting from wall to wall in a series of impressive swoops, dips and spins.
It seemed my eyes were becoming accustomed to the presence of a shield charm. I found that the more clearly I was able to make out Thea’s dim form, the more the fear I’d experienced for the last several minutes began to fade. Inspired by her aerial stunts, I chanced an experimental twirl — and fell into one of the wooden doors lining the hallway with a thud. The door flew open and a middle-aged human male stomped out.
“Who’s there?” he asked, scratching at his bare belly. Thea giggled aloud; the man looked up and down the hallway, his bleary eyes searching.
“Damn poltergeists,” the man muttered finally, slamming the door behind him.
We flew around the hallways for hours, peeking into open rooms and dodging the human children, who always seemed to appear right as I was zipping around a corner. Now that my fear of flying had subsided, I was exhilarated by my new ability. Soon I was swooping and diving right along with Thea, the air rushing past my fur like a cool breeze on a spring day, following the subtle outline of her slender form as she careened from wall to wall. I wasn’t as graceful as her, but I didn’t care. I had finally found my way to the sky.
As we explored the hotel, the presence of strong magic, magic beyond anything Thea could produce alone, became undeniable, even to a woodlin like myself. Its current of energy passed over me like electric waves across my fur. I’d felt it in the hotel tree as well, but I’d expected it there, with all the staff fairies flying about. Out here was another story. I kept looking around, expecting to see more fairies or goblins, even shielded ones, but Thea was the only magical creature in sight.
I decided to ask her about it when we made a stop at the bar on the third floor. Apparently Thea had a thing for bars. Or maybe just drinking. A bar patron had left a bit of something called scotch in the bottom of his glass, and Thea was over the moon about it.
“Now this is the good stuff,” she said, and dove inside the glass. I could tell see the resulting “splash” as her head hit the surface of the liquid. She resurfaced with a sigh of delight.
We perched on the edge of the worn, wooden table so that Thea could wait out the buzz from the scotch. From here, we had a good view of the bar entertainment for the evening, a human female dressed in black singing into a microphone on the bar’s small stage. Her voice reminded me of a hermit thrush’s clear, flute-like song.
“Are there… other kinds of magic here in the hotel?” I asked. “I mean, besides the fairy kind.”
Thea giggled. “There is a thing called space-time magic. You’d have to ask a goblin for the details, but there’s a lot of it going on in this place. It’s one of the reasons I came here. And for the tree lighting, of course.”
“Tree lighting?” I asked.
“You mean you don’t know?” Although I couldn’t see her, I could just imagine Thea’s already-wide eyes expanding even more. “Wow. Well, it’s an annual tradition at this hotel, and one of the only times the goblins and fairies work together. The goblins wait until the human hotel night receptionist goes on break to cast a timestop charm around the lobby so no humans will walk in on us. Then, we fairies get to put on a show, no shield charms required!” Thea clapped her hands, clearly delighted at the idea of performing in front of everyone.
“That sounds cool,” I said. “When is it?”
“Tonight,” Thea said. “That’s why I was surprised you didn’t know. I figured your dad would be all about taking you to see the flying fairies.”
The hair on my back stiffened. “What do you mean?”
Thea gave me a look. “Oh come on, Ferdy. That older chipmunk at the bar was obviously your dad. The way you hightailed it out of there after seeing him…” Thea whistled.
I glanced down. “Well, you know what it’s like. Parents, I mean.”
“No. I don’t.” Thea’s voice was very matter of fact. “Fairies don’t have families.”
I stared up at her outline. “But how can that be? I mean, someone had to, you know… have you.” As soon as I said it, I realized that I really had no idea how fairy reproduction worked.
… But I was about to find out.
Thea spent the next half hour giving me all the details of an intimate encounter between fairy folk, including things I really didn’t need or want to know. Accompanying her explanation was the music from the band members onstage, who played soft, melodic tunes as the singer rested her voice between sets.
“And so, after the two fairies mate, they leave the glowing embers of their lovemaking behind,” Thea continued. “Sometimes, from these embers, another fairy pops into existence fully-grown. The new fairy either heads out on their own or finds a fairy glen to join. But there are no familial connections, no childhood, no parenting. And no responsibility! It’s great.”
“It sounds lonely,” I said. I wanted to take it back immediately — why make her feel bad for something she couldn’t have? — but it had already been said.
“I guess it is lonely sometimes,” Thea replied. At least she was honest.
We were quiet for a few minutes. The entertainer had taken the stage again and was singing a song about a long, lost lover.
Suddenly, Thea spoke. “I have an idea. Instead of going back to your dad, why don’t you fly with me to the fairy glen?”
“What? That’s crazy,” I shook my head, laughing.
“What’s so crazy about it?” Thea asked. “You had fun today, didn’t you? With me, every day could be like this. Unless you want to just live the rest of your life holed up in a tree with a lady chipmunk, stuffing your cheeks with acorns.”
I laughed again, even though, truth be told, I did enjoy acorns in their various forms. For special occasions, my dad would grind them down to a flour to make a crust, which he would then fill with bits of sweetened apple. And there was nothing quite so exciting as finding an acorn with a little hole in the top where a weevil had laid its egg. My mouth watered at the thought of a nice, juicy weevil grub.
“Well, every day couldn’t be like this,” I said. “I would only be able to fly every ten years with your fairy dust. Thanks for letting me use it, by the way.”
Thea bit her lip. “Yeah… ten years… I did say that, didn’t I? The thing is…”
I narrowed my eyes. “It isn’t ten years? Well, how long does it take to come back then?”
Thea made a show of counting on her fingers. “Oh… I’d say it takes… two, three hours at most.”
Thea let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, you wouldn’t have come at all if I’d told the truth! I knew how badly you wanted to fly, even if you were scared. And by the way, I’m not the only one of us who lied about something, Mr. That’s-Not-My-Dad.”
My anger deflated. “You’re right. But I can’t just leave him.”
“I’m not saying to leave forever,” Thea said. “You could always visit if you want. And just think — you could go flying like this every day with me! And I –” Thea hesitated. “And I wouldn’t have to be alone,” she finished in a rush.
“Thea,” I said with a sigh. “I think you’ve had a little too much scotch.”
“Just think about it, Ferdy,” Thea said. “We need to head back now if you want to see the tree lighting.”
Our return flight took us back through the hotel hallways. By this hour, things were settling down; there were far fewer human children running around, and the few adults we saw dragged their feet on their way to their rooms, clearly exhausted.
I was starting to feel tired, too. Flying had seemed so easy before, and now I found that I had to put extra effort into it. I quickly abandoned the fancy aerial stunts and just focused on staying in the air.
“I think the fairy dust might be wearing off,” I called to Thea, who was still twirling and spinning through the air.
“Yeah, it doesn’t last all that long,” she said, flying back to hover beside me. “I can give you more… but only if you promise to come with me to the fairy glen.”
I hesitated. Being able to fly was amazing — but what about my dad? He wouldn’t even know what had happened to me. Thea wouldn’t be lonely anymore, but he would be.
“I don’t know, Thea. Let me think about it.”
Thea sighed. “Fine. But you better hurry if you want that dust to last you all the way to the tree.”
I took her advice and pushed myself forward through air that felt increasingly like water. As I struggled, Thea swirled and looped around me in fancy figure-eights. She didn’t taunt me or anything, but she also didn’t offer to help. The message was clear — if I wanted her fairy dust, I had to make the promise.
By the time we reached the hotel lobby, every muscle in my body was shaking. My tail felt like a deadweight. The lobby was almost entirely empty, save for the night receptionist. As we crossed the room slowly, the receptionist stood and made his way to the bathroom. Surely that meant the goblins would be putting the timestop in place soon. What would happen if we were still out here when they did?
“Don’t think… I can make it,” I said, gasping.
“Then promise me,” Thea said. She was more than an outline now, although still not fully unshielded; I could see the pleading in her eyes. I wondered if she was showing me that on purpose. I wondered if I, too, was starting to lose my shield just like I was losing my ability to fly.
“I can’t, Thea,” I said. “Please… just help me.”
Thea’s face hardened. “No. Not until you say you’ll come with me!”
And with that, she flew away, leaving me to struggle the last few feet to the tree alone.
Less than six inches from the tree, my muscles finally gave out. As I plummeted toward the ground, my father’s face came to my mind. I would never get to see him again. I would never get to tell him that I’d finally flown.
My only hope was that the fall would break a few bones rather than kill me — but there must have been a little magic left in me after all. Whatever it was came out of me all at once, propelling me skyward in an arc toward the tree. The result was crude, but effective; I fell into the tangled branches of the tree, the smaller branches helping to break my fall. I descended through several levels of leaves, dropped into a clearing over one of the human viewing areas, and landed on top of an unsuspecting goblin.
“Get off me!” the goblin yelled, smacking me in the head with his cane. Even if my shield charm hadn’t been completely gone by this point, I didn’t think I could have recovered from this without being noticed. Although it wasn’t funny and I felt bad for landing on someone, I was so grateful to be alive that I laughed out loud — which just made the goblin smack me harder.
“Ferdinand? Ferdinand!” Suddenly, my dad was there. He helped pull me and the goblin to our feet as a crowd gathered around us.
After making sure that I was alright, my dad launched into a long-winded apology. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he said to the goblin. “My name is Mr. Turnwitz, and this is my son, Ferdinand. If there’s anything I can do for you — call for a fairy medic, maybe? Buy you a fermented beverage? Perhaps a peach nectar? Always does me good when I’ve taken a fall. Anyway, I’m sure my son didn’t mean to… ah… to–”
My dad paused, looking at me. “What exactly were you doing?”
I racked my brain for a suitable explanation, but the only thing that came to mind was the truth.
My dad stared at me, speechless. The goblin shook his head and waddled away, smacking the base of his cane against the branch beneath us, muttering something about “wackadoo woodlins.”
Soon, the crowd that had formed around us started to disperse. Something else had drawn away their attention, some other spectacle more interesting than a chipmunk falling from the sky.
Out in the human hotel lobby, a formation of fairies rose into the air, glowing in every color imaginable. Saturated jewel tones of vibrant pink and deep blue intermingled with pastel yellow, lilac and sage, unleashing an assortment of light into the dim room.
The tree lighting had begun.
One by one, each fairy approached the tree, taking his or her place on the tip of each branch until the entire tree was filled with a bright luminescence.
My dad reached over a paw and squeezed my shoulder. I leaned into his embrace. I knew we’d be having lots of conversations later — about fairies, and flying, and not crashing into unsuspecting goblins. But for right now, I was content just to be here with my dad.
“You know,” he whispered, “After this tree lighting, the fairies will most likely pair up to mate for the evening before going their separate ways. Fairy courtship is a curious business, but I suppose you’re old enough to hear about those kinds of things now. Aren’t you?”
I was saved from answering by an announcement from the staff goblins. They would be ending the timestop soon, which meant the fairies had to extinguish their lights. Staff fairies were to return to the tree, while any fairy guests were free to do as they pleased.
Most of the fairies left immediately, flying out through the mail slot in the lobby door. But one remained. Doused in bright, emerald-green light, the fairy stayed floating just a few feet outside the tree for more than a minute, long enough that the staff goblins started to grumble about wasted magic.
I couldn’t see the fairy’s face, but I knew it was Thea. I raised a paw in farewell. In spite of how things had ended, I was grateful to her for giving me the gift of flight, however fleeting. The green light blinked merrily a few times before following its companions outside.
I hoped Thea really had a fairy glen to return to like she’d said. Part of me thought maybe that had been a lie, too.
“Did you know that fairy?” my dad asked.
To my surprise, I didn’t mind the question. “Yeah. I did. Her name is Thea.”
My dad mmmmed meaningfully. “That sounds like a story fit for a fermented juice. What do you say we head up to the bar and share one? I know I said we’d wait until next year, but… well, it wouldn’t be a Turnwitz father son trip without a little adventure, right?”
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stories in the WFGC Hotel blog hop anthology. You can see the full list of stories in this blog hop anthology here:
This is a contribution to the WFGC Hotel anthology blog home. A directory of other occupied rooms and stories can by found here. Hope you have an enjoyable stay.
If your goal in life is to avoid as much responsibility as possible then dish-washing might be the job for you. Like a lot of repetitive tasks there’s more of an art to it than you’d think, but if you’ve got two hands and a pair of rubber gloves then it won’t take you more than an hour to grasp the basics. Ern Malley had been washing dishes for such a long time that it actually gave him a headache to recall a time when he had done anything different.
“Focus on the suds,” he told himself. “Anything elsewhere ain’t your concern.”
His station was, rather predictably, planted in front of the sink in the big kitchen located in the very bowels of the hotel. The staff around him communicated in more languages than he could count on both rubber-gloved hands, but everybody spoke the universal language of curse words and pointing at things, so it all tended to work out fine. Ern actually found the constant chaos comforting. Whatever was happening, whether it was in the luxury suites or at the prep cook’s station right behind him, all Ern had to do was keep on scrubbing those plates.
It might have been a Monday. The trouble started an hour before he was due to clock off for the day and grab some sleep on the cot in the cleaning cupboard underneath the stairs. The shift manager, an uptight palooka named Brewer, was cruising the kitchen. He was obviously trying to be unobtrusive, an odd fit for a man whose sole reason for existence was to get in as many faces as possible. Ern didn’t mind it when Brewer lost his temper. When that happened, all you had to do was look down into the suds and scrub harder. Brewer genuinely trying not to cause a scene? Now, that was an unwelcome development.
“You,” he said as he walked in the general direction of Ern’s station.
Ern looked around to see who Brewer might be talking to. Whoever it was, he didn’t envy them. When he spotted the rest of the kitchen staff giving his area a wider berth than the site of a nuclear disaster, his heart sank. Brewer was looking for him.
“Ditch the gloves,” Brewer told him, pulling up a few paces away. “I got a job for you.”
“Me?” Ern repeated, furrowing his brow in confusion that was at least fifty percent sincere.
Brewer sneered. “Yeah, I got a something that requires a dishpig’s special set of skills.” He looked around at the rest of the staff, who had all abandoned their jobs in favour of watching the exchange. “You don’t got something better to do?” he asked them.
“Look,” Ern said as his colleagues pretended to busy themselves, “I’d love to help out, but I’m not exactly a welcome sight outside of the kitchen. Isn’t there someone front of house you could be asking?”
Brewer laughed. “I went through the logs the other day. You know what I found out? When it comes to reliability, you’re the man to beat. No sick days, no complaints, you turn up every day like clockwork and stay until the job is done.”
Ern didn’t say anything. He had a feeling Brewer had rehearsed this speech. He sighed inwardly as he started to peel off his gloves. They’d been on so long it was like shedding a second skin.
“So,” Brewer continued, “I need something done reliably, who am I to ask but the most reliable man in the building?” He beamed at Ern like this bit of circular reasoning deserved a round of applause. “What do you say?”
“What’s the job?”
If Brewer detected any reluctance on Ern’s part, he didn’t let on. “You know the new girl? Esther something. Pretty little blonde thing. She took an order up to the penthouse a few hours back and never returned. I want you to go and see what’s up.”
“That really sounds like something for security.”
“Oh sure. But I’m giving it to you.”
“No need to thank me. Might more interesting jobs coming your way if you don’t mess this up.”
Ern had never asked for anything, never indicated that he was looking for opportunities to prove himself capable of more, and now this officious idiot actually thought he was doing him a favour by throwing this into his lap. He fought the urge to bang his head against the sink. “Go up to the penthouse,” he repeated, “and retrieve Esther. That’s it?”
“That, as they say, is it. No excuses, no exceptions, just have her back in my office in an hour. Got it?”
Ern waited until he was in the elevator before swearing. As the floors lit up one after the other, tiny bulbs marking their ascent to the top of the building, he let loose with a torrent of obscenity that would have made a carnie blush. Washing dishes was, in his experience, the only simple job that actually stayed simple. The tinny elevator music played on a loop. He cursed his inability to ever say no to anything, ever.
He’d gotten a hold of himself by the time the door chimed open. The top floor. He’d never been up this high before. Truth be told, he was happy enough down in the basement that he barely ever had a reason to leave. Some of the people that passed through, staff and guests alike, had a strange look about them. They were people out of time and place, a harried cast to their features. The hotel did that to people. He’d long ago resolved not to let it get to him, to focus on the suds instead.
The door to the penthouse suite was ajar. Ern stood a moment. The same voice that had been urging him to tell Brewer to get lost chose that moment to speak up and let him know that, for whatever reason, calling out and making his presence known was not a good idea. He pushed the door and it swung silently inward. He gasped at the sight that greeted him.
Carnage. That was the only word to describe it. One corpse on the couch, another bleeding on the no-doubt expensive rug laid out in the middle of the room. He could see someone else’s feet poking out of the bedroom doorway, the rest of their body obscured. The cause of death was no mystery. Bullet holes riddle the ceiling, walls, and the bodies of all three corpses. There was a whirring sound coming from the direction of the coffee table, but that didn’t seem overly important. The dead blonde woman on the couch was still holding a rather serious-looking gun, and Ern had watched enough cop shows to know that the cylinder screwed onto the end of its barrel was a device for muffling gunshots. He blinked and turned around, swallowing hard as he moved to go back the way he’d come.
“Now,” the dead girl on the couch said as she suddenly appeared, very much alive, in front of the exit, “you have to promise not to scream.”
To his credit, he didn’t, but this was mainly due to the fact that it seemed like all the air had been siphoned from his lungs. He looked over his shoulder. The room was intact, the bullet holes and blood erased. He could feel one of his “this is why you never leave the basement” headaches coming on.
“You’re not seeing things,” the girl said, “but I don’t have time to explain. You see –“
The bedroom door burst open and two men came out with their guns blazing. Ern felt something hit his shoulder like a hammer, almost spinning him around. Something else struck his chest, then his stomach, and all of a sudden he was staring up at the ceiling. He blinked again.
And was back on his feet, exactly where he’d been a moment ago, the girl standing in front of him.
“You’re in the loop,” she told him, as if they hadn’t just been shot at by a pair of killers. “You’re going to die a lot more. Don’t worry, you get used to –“
This time Ern didn’t even feel the bullets before the blink.
“What’s happening?” he asked frantically, whirling around as he tried to watch both the girl and the door that he could have sworn the men had come out of just a moment ago. The room had reset itself once again.
“Duck, you idiot!”
The blonde leapt past him, shoving him out of the way. He stumbled back against the wall as the bedroom door opened once more. This time, the girl was quicker on the draw, bringing her gun up and pulling the trigger. There was a noise like two sheets of sandpaper rubbing together as chunks of wood and plaster were blasted from the doorway. The two men slumped to the ground, motionless, the weapons they’d been holding falling from their hands.
“You killed them!” Ern gasped.
She ignored him, throwing her own gun to the floor. Kneeling down by the coffee table, she opened the case that had been resting there. The whirring noise that Ern had noticed when he’d first entered the room grew louder.
Ern tried to catch his breath. “You’re Esther, right?” he asked.
The girl laughed. “Sure, if you like.” She sighed and reached up, running her fingers through her long blonde hair before grabbing her scalp and pulling. She grimaced as she threw her blonde wig onto the floor, revealing a short brunette bob beneath. “God, those things make you sweat!”
“You killed them,” Ern said weakly. He couldn’t look away from the two men the blonde had just left lying in a crumpled heap in the bedroom doorway.
She pointed at the case. “I started the loop when they went into the bedroom with the money. Just a precaution.” She sniffed. “I should have known they’d double-cross me.”
Ern took a step closer. The case was made of some pretty heavy-duty looking material, black and light-absorbent. Inside was some kind of mechanism that resembled the progeny of a three-way between a model train set, an antique clock, and a supercomputer. Just from laying eyes on it, he had no doubt that people would kill to acquire it, whatever the hell it actually was.
“Is that a time machine?” he asked, afraid that even asking would have terrible consequences.
The girl laughed, not looking up from her examination of the machine’s innards. “Not quite,” she answered.
“Is your name really Esther?
She shrugged. “If you want it to be.”
“I need to go. I mean, I really need to –“
“Come on,” the girl who’s name certainly wasn’t Esther said, “haven’t you ever wanted to tear back the veil? See what really makes the world tick?”
“I just want to wash dishes.”
She chuckled like he’d said something funny as she twiddled with some of the knobs and dials on the machine. “I need to reset the loop,” she said, for what Ern surmised was mostly her own benefit. “Just a second.” She bit her lip in concentration. “There!”
Ern felt his ears pop. He shook his head and nearly fell over. The girl who wasn’t Esther looked at him, suddenly concerned.
“Sit down,” she said, jumping to her feet and guiding him to the couch. “The first time you get looped is always a bit rough.”
He sat and held his head in his hands. “What’s going on?” he asked after a moment.
“Short version? I was trying to rob a bank vault on one of Jupiter’s moons. I must have messed up my calculations. I wound up here, my box wound up somewhere else. I took the job here until I could figure out who had the box and make an offer. Longer version? Well, I’m from another dimension, at least as best as I can tell. This place is weird. I think that –“
“Alright.” Ern held up his hand as he took a deep, shuddering breath. “Just give me a moment.”
“Come on, you never noticed it? The explosions, the assassins? The way nothing seems to stay the same for long? The tentacles?”
There was another blink and Ern found himself on his feet again, standing over the girl as she worked on her machine. “Was that a loop?” he asked.
“You got it.”
He pointed at the two gunmen, who had remained very dead through this latest transition. “Why didn’t they know they were in the loop?”
“They were part of it. You wandered into the middle of it. I mean, there’s more to it than that, but –“
“I get it. I think I need to get out of here.”
She sighed. “I’m not trying to break the laws of physics, if that’s what you’re worried about.” There was a beep as she pressed a button and a light started blinking green. “I just want to convince them to look the other way for a moment.”
The machine started whirring even faster. It seemed to hit Ern right in the chest, as if the fabric of reality itself was fluttering like a piece of paper. His ears popped continuously, as if someone were trying to inflate his head with a bicycle pump.
“Stop it, please!” he gasped.
The girl stood, balling her hands into fists. She looked over at him, her face a mask of glee. “Can you feel that?” she asked him.
The machine seemed to be trying to vibrate its way through the floor. It seemed to stay still while the whole building shook around them. A new noise joined the chorus, a high-pitched keening that set Ern’s teeth on edge. A pinprick of light appeared in the air above the machine, then flowered open into an intricate geometric pattern. Just to look at it made the bottom of Ern’s stomach drop out.
Suddenly everything went silent. The pattern floated in the air between Ern and the girl. Something about its existence, here or anywhere else in the universe, struck him as very, very wrong. If he concentrated hard, he could make out something in its centre.
“Well,” the girl said, “this is where I say goodbye.” She looked over at the two dead men. “Sorry to leave you with such a mess.”
“It’s alright,” Ern said, although he had no idea how he was going to explain this to anyone, much less Brewer.
The girl pursed her lips. “I don’t suppose you want to join me?”
“I really just want to wash dishes,” Ern said, but this time there was perhaps a little less sincerity in his voice. He couldn’t look away from the design traced in the air in front of him. It was growing larger, an aperture onto another world slowly opening. “What’s in there?” he asked.
“Terror. Beauty, too.” She smirked. “Probably still dishes that need washing.” She stepped forward, the white light seeming to engulf her. On the edge of evaporation, she reached back, offering him her hand. “What do you say? Want to be the first dishpig that goes intergalactic?”
A humming sound filled Ern’s ears as, slowly, he reached for her hand. The light brightened immeasurably, then faded. The room at the top of the hotel was left still and silent.
This is my contribution to the #WFGCHotel blog hop. There’s a story hiding behind every door… are you game enough to knock. Check out the Hotel Directory here:
I pulled my late seventies Ford behind a grey sedan. The street was dark, save the lights from the hotel. I killed the engine and watched as Billy climbed out of his jacked up monstrosity of a pickup. He adjusted his pants around his large belly. What my sister saw in this man was beyond me. He looked like a cross between Skipper from Gilligan’s Island and Gomer Pyle; fat and dumber than a box of rocks.
I didn’t plan to spend my weekend following him across three states, but when I came home with a fist full of cash from my last sale of hogs to find a hole in my floor where my safe used to be, I had no other choice but to track his thieving ass down. Billy made a lasting redneck. Casanova impression that made him easier to track down.
He glanced around the parking lot. I held my breath as if the slightest movement of my chest would give me away. Not finding anything, he lumbered his way into the hotel. Releasing the breath I was holding, I reached for the door handle. As soon as he crossed the threshold into the lobby, I popped open the door and hopped onto the wet pavement. The air smelled electric. It was fitting. I snatched the cattle prod off the bench seat and slipped my hand through the rope loop, securing it to my wrist. I wanted him to pay for taking everything I had worked for. The question was could I go through with it?
I didn’t have another choice. The safe not only contained deeds and titles but a pickle jar with my life savings. A year and a half ago, when the bank learned that my property was more valuable than first appraised, payments weren’t applied as they should have leading to numerous foreclosure proceedings. After tiring of the constant threat of losing my home, I made it my mission to pay the farm off. A year and a half of wheeling’ and dealin ‘ I saved enough only to come home and find the safe ripped out and my hopes of owning the farm along with it. Hitting him one or two times with the cattle prod would be cathartic. I spent several hundred miles rehearsing how it would go down. I couldn’t turn back now. I couldn’t afford to turn back.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. I didn’t need to get upset right now. I couldn’t lose my cool and fuck this up. Billy would pay. And I would enjoy every single moment.
My body hummed in anticipation. Soon those electrodes would be right next to his oh-so-delicate man parts. An evil grin spread across my face.
I need to get my head in the game and focus. Just because he’s a stupid redneck doesn’t mean he won’t use his size to gain the advantage.
I’ve watched him toss bales of hay, he would have no problem tossing me. I stepped through the revolving door and came to an abrupt halt. Amid the beauty and luxury of the hotel lobby; a goat and a rather handsome one at that, except that its horns were three times the size of any normal goat and chewed on a cigar. Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice the goat, especially the receptionist. A quirky looking red head typed on a keyboard. Not the pet I would expect Yankees to keep indoors. Different strokes for different folks, I guessed.
“He’s in the lounge,” the receptionist said, her nails clacking on the keyboard.
“Pardon me.” I winced at my thick accent.
“The man you are looking for is in the lounge.”
“How?” my voice trailed off.
The woman tapped her head with a sculpted nail. “Clair Buoyant.”
“Ok, Claire.” I realized this woman is what they call two -biscuits-shy-of-a-picnic. Not that it mattered. It was beyond my comprehension that this woman would help a total stranger but most people who are touched are too trusting. She was giving me vital information. Information that would speed up the recovery of my money. “You wouldn’t want to give me his room number?”
“That is against hotel policy.” she said, “I can get you a room.”
I shook my head. “Won’t be staying that long.”
For a split second she appeared to be lost in thought, then shook her head and continued like nothing ever happened. “Might want to hurry, he’s spiking drinks.” She slid a key onto the counter, shot me a pointed gaze and moved to another terminal, her nails clicking against the keyboard.
“Thank you.” I said as I palmed the key. The key felt heavy in my hands. “Where is,” I didn’t have time to finish my sentence. A familiar loud whoops erupted from down the hall followed by clapping. “Never mind, I think I got it.”
I pivoted and made my way to the lounge. “Oh by the way ,” I said, the receptionist looked up from her computer screen. “Your goat has a glandular problem. You might want to get that checked out?”
She shot me a conspiratorial grin and said, “ Give him hell.”
“I plan on it.”
It wasn’t hard to spot Billy. He was the idiot with his hat pushed back on his forehead, a long neck bottle dangling from his fingers, chatting up a cute blonde in a hot pink tank top. She didn’t look that impressed with his southern charm. But then again, Billy didn’t have much on southern charm. He was more like…. bacon. The underbelly. Only good when it’s dead.
My fingers wrapped around the metal wand of the prod. I wouldn’t have to be close to do it. All I would have to do is walk up, give a little ‘Hiya Billy’ and pull the trigger. Easy- peasey .
My heart thundered in my chest. Do I want to do this?
Yes, I want him to feel the fear, the same fear and desperation I felt when I discovered what he had done. The local cops; they were about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. Something about pursuing over state lines. I was going to get my money and to teach the fucker a lesson. But it wouldn’t put an end to Billy. He would come back to the farm, playing the humble card to my sister, who is pathetic enough to take him back. Now ending his existence, that would solve my problems. Now his absence from this world would be the first step in chlorinating the gene pool. It wouldn’t be that much different from slaughtering hogs. I cringed at the thought. I couldn’t do something like that. What I needed was for him to leave on his own accord and the only way to do that was to put the fear of god into him. Billy was about to have a come-to-Jesus-Meeting.
And I was Jesus.
Billy had his back to the room focused on a petite blonde who was eating up his redneck charms. I made my way around the tables careful to stay in his blind spot. It was too easy. I heard whispers when I opened my duster and pulled the prod out. I was close. I choked on the smell of Aqua Velva wafting off of him.
“Hiya, Billy.” I said trying to configure my face into a pleasing smile.
Drunk horney rednecks have great expressions. Every thought passed through that pea-sized brain lit up his face like a neon sign. His southern redneck charm faded when he saw I was too close and holding cattle prod. He tried to scramble backwards but my arm moved faster than his drunken feet. I jabbed the electrodes into his side and depressed the trigger.
The sound he made was very similar to that of a piglet: sharp and high pitched as he tried to evade the cattle prod. His heel caught on the stool as it scattered across the floor. He scrambled to find purchase on anything that could keep him upright but failed. His head bouncing off the bar sounded like two skillets being rung.
Joy and mirth bubbled from my soul. I clutched my stomach and howled with laughter. I remember onlookers clapping. His squeal played over and over in my head, bringing more gales of laughter. My stomach hurt, tears streamed down my face, I was gasping for breath and sounded like a deranged seal.
One woman shot me a dirty look as she assessed Billy’s vitals. I wiped my eyes and let out a contented sigh. Relief washed over me. The hard part was over.
“Well, he is alive.” She said as she released one of his eyelids.
” Of course he is.” I said I leaned over and slapped his face.
“Wakey wakey, fucker.” I had to stifle a laugh as he blinked.
“You crazy bitch.” he scrambled backwards knocking his head against the chair.
“Need help, Billy?” I took a step forward an extended my hand.
“Don’t touch me.” He swatted my hand away, His voice high with a feminine-like panic quality to it.
I stood back and let him right himself. “Let’s go have a chat Billy.”
“I am not going anywhere with you.” He rubbed the side of his head.
“Don’t be like that Billy.” I tilted my handy-dandy cattle prod up and examined the electrodes. “We really need to chat.” I didn’t let him get the next curse word out before I hit him again with the prod. His body jerked, and he scrambled backwards. Sweat beaded up on his forehead. “How about that chat, Billy ?” I took a step forward ready to juice him again.
“Ok, ok.” He said, his hands held up.
“Good boy, Billy.” I said. “Now, pay your tab and Let’s go chat.”
“We can charge it to his room.”
“Well,” I said turning back to Billy. “You see that. They can charge it to your room. Say thank you Billy.” I raised my cattle prod when he hesitated.
“Thank you, thank you,” he blurted.
“Lead the way.”
We were almost to the room when he decided that he would make a break for it. I jabbed the prod in the middle of his back and pressed the trigger. He squealed. His back arched and then he stumbled forward two steps, grunting through the pain. A third step and his knees wobbled. I pressed the trigger again. On his fourth step he panted. On his fifth he collapsed on the shaggy carpet.
“Dammit, Billy.” I had no way of knowing how long Billy would remain out. I didn’t want to wait for him to come to. I wanted my money, and I wanted to go home, pay the last payment on my place and be left alone. After my little side show in the lounge, it will look like murder when they see me standing over his body with a cattle prod. They would call Barney Fife in a heartbeat.
Kneeling down I placed my fingers along his neck and felt for pulse. “You need to quit drinking. Your gonna end up like your Pappaw,” I murmured after finding a strong pulse. I glanced down the hall. I need to get him into the room. But how?
Billy was six foot four and an easy two twenty. There was no way on God’s green earth I could lug his big ass up to the room. If a had a wheelbarrow then I could have a way. But I don’t think a swanky Yankee hotel has a wheelbarrow stashed somewhere.
The squeal of hinges echoed down the hallway. A heavy metal door swung open. A maid propped open the door and pushed a cart through. I eyed the cart with an idea forming. I could make that work.
“We might be in luck, Billy.” I said moving down the hall. The supply closet was empty. A large metal shelf on the wall filled with enough cleaning chemicals to make a clean freak orgasm. Next to it, a mop bucket nestled under a faucet, a garden hose attached to the spicket .Next to the mop bucket was an appliance cart. A plan formed in my head.
I pulled out the appliance cart and found a roll of duct tape on the top shelf. I took my finds back to Billy and set to work. It only took me thirty minutes to roll the large bastard onto it and tape his arms and legs to the cart.
We stepped out of the elevator on the second floor and was almost to my room when Billy stirred. “Hello Billy, how was your nap?”
He yelled through my homemade, duct tape ball gag. I might have gotten a little tape happy. He was panicking and pulling against the restraints. He tried to throw me off balance by shifting his weight to the side. “Knock it off.” I said as I slapped him upside the head.
Finding the room I tipped the cart upright, Billy squealed through his gag. I unlocked the door propped it open and then stepped out into the hall to retrieve Billy.
Suddenly my vision blurred and pain erupted from the back of my head. The last thing I remember was seeing Billy’s panic-stricken face as I lost consciousness.
I don’t know how much time had passed. My throat was raw and swollen. The room was darker than before and the curtains were drawn .I flexed my shoulders trying to rid them of the ache.
Without drawing attention to my movement I raised my head and peered through my lashes, scanning the room. Billy still bound to the utility cart, his head slumped over, drool accumulating in the corner of his mouth.
“Have a nice nap?” Two men in suits, one sat casually in the chair. Ice-blue eyes, chiseled features, dark hair tousled just enough to give him that sexy hands-through-hair look. He was your basic pretty boy with an arrogant glint to his eye. The other loomed in a tall back chair in the opposite corner. His broad shoulders seemed weighted down with a dark vibe that spoke of twisted evil and a way to make a body feel pain. Both wore suits that had a sheen to them giving the boys a cheap, sleazy appearance.
“Nice work.” Pretty boy nodding towards Billy. “Where did you find him?
“Considering he smells like a distillery, I’d say in a bar.” My smart ass knows that my mouth has gotten me into a mess load of trouble. I clenched my fists to hide how bad they shook.
“You don’t strike me as a woman that has to resort to such,” his voice trailed off as he surveyed my duct tape job. “Tactics to gain a man’s attention.” He chuckled and shot his friend a knowing glance.
“I hit a dry streak.” I said shrugging my shoulders. “But it appears my luck has changed. Three for the effort of one. Yay me,” I deadpanned. It was my go to, my modus operandi when scared shitless—act like a crazy bitch. I wish it were different but even with my life on the line I couldn’t seem to keep my mouth shut
Pretty boy quirked an eyebrow. His companion snorted and pushed off the wall pulling a small white vial out of his breast pocket. He snapped it in his fingers and waved it under Billy’s nose.
I was the first thing that Billy laid eyes on when he came to. Unadulterated rage painted his face in hues of puce and burgundy. He spat and puttered like one of them Pentecostal church goers speaking in tongues. He struggled against the duct tape, spittle dripping from his lower lip. I looked away; spit always made me gag.
At least the duct tape was holding. When Pretty Boy had enough of Billy’s lamenting he gave Lurch a short nod and Billy was silenced with a punch to the nose. The sickening sound of Billy’s nose breaking echoed around the hotel room. Blood poured from his nose and ran down his white shirt.
“You fucking bitch,” he squealed.
“This isn’t the situation you imagine there fuck face” I said as I held my zip tied hands up for Billy to see. Blood poured from his nose. “Shut up you.”
“William Robert Holten,” Pretty boy said, interrupting our banter. “I had some disturbing news today.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and tapped one out. “Morton delivery was three cases shy.” He put the cigarette in his mouth. “You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?” He flicked his zippo and lit his cigarette.
My head snapped to Billy. Fear over took his expression “I know nothin’ about no missing cases,” he said.
“Oh, I think you do.” Pretty boy stabbed his cigarette into the clear glass ashtray. He rose from his chair. As he passed the end of the bed, his foot hit something solid. Curious, pretty boy pulled the bedspread up to reveal my two foot sealed safe. The fucker couldn’t break into it. “What is this William?”
“That’s mine.” The goons turned toward me. “That’s my safe. He stole it.”
Pretty boy’s eyes raised. “How do you two know each other?”
“She is my sister-in-law. It’s money she owed me.”
“Owed you?” I wanted to feel his testicles pop under my boot heel. “You are useless as tits on a bull. In what delusion do I owe you money? You live in my house, eat my food.”
“And fuck your sister.” He sneered.
“Do you mind shutting him up?” I snapped at pretty boy who gave Lurch a short nod. Lurch pulled out a pistol and jacked a shell into the chamber. I tried my best to keep the shock off my face as he pressed it to Billy’s temple. I turned my attention to pretty boy. “Look the safe is mine. I tracked him down.” I took a deep breath and plunged forward. “Give me my safe and you can keep shit for brains.”
“Please let me take my safe and go.” pretty boy mocked. “I do not understand the culture around here.” He cast a quick glance to his partner. “Where I come from we embrace family. Family sticks together.”
“That man is not my blood,” I seethed. ” He should have been swallowed .”
Pretty boy snickered as he stooped and pulled out the safe and placed it on the table. “I am assuming you know how to open this?”
What kind of bullshit question is that? No Mr. Thug man, I put my valuables in a safe but have no fucking idea how to operate it. Were all men this fucking stupid? I didn’t bother to answer his question. I believe the look on my face told him enough.
“Let see what’s in the safe, shall we?”
Without my money, I will be under the bank’s thumb. These men weren’t some redneck hicks upset over a payday loan. These were professionals, equipped with guns and a vast knowledge of how to end a human life. Right now the only thing that should concern me is shutting the hell up and getting out of this alive. But I needed that money.
“I am sorry for this turn of events.” Pretty boy said moving back to his perch. He lit another cigarette “While I sense an entertaining story, I am short on time and patience. If you please?” He gestured to the safe.
“Hold up there, pretty boy. I am a completely separate issue. I did not know, nor do I condone whatever the fuck this mother fucker has done. My life savings is in that safe.” My voice cracked.
“I understand your loss,” he mocked covering his heart with his hand.
Everything I’d worked for, all the blood, sweat, and tears, pinching pennies so much they screamed, all of it was gone with the wind. My ears felt hot as my blood roared in my veins. White hot vicious anger pulled in my chest. I channeled the woman I most admired. Scarlett O’Hara. She did anything and everything to protect Tara. In that moment, I was saving my Tara. I was about to give these motherfuckers good dose of southern redneck hospitality.
“Suellen, please.” Billy whimpered. “Let them take it. I’ll make it up to you.” Billy gave me the perfect out. I eyed the cattle prod forgotten on the bed. Thank you Billy .
I nodded, hoping that I was conveying the right amount of defeat.
I burst from the chair, my joined fists hitting Lurch under the chin, snapping his head back. I yanked my hands to my sides, the plastic ties dug into the tender flesh of my wrist before they snapped. With my hands free, I scrambled over the bed, grabbing the prod and thrust it into Lurches side. He fell back, knocking the lamp off the end stand.
I turned to pretty boy and jabbed the prod at him. He ducked to the side and pulled a gun from the small of his back. At the sight of the gun I dropped to the ground just as the gun went off. My ears rang. I took inventory of my body—no holes. My wrists were sore from breaking the zip ties but nothing else seemed wrong. I tilted my head to the side to see Billy’s head hanging to the side a large red stain spreading across his chest.
I don’t know what came over me in that moment. I hated this man for marrying my sister. I hated him for being a waste of human space. I hated that he was even part of the human gene pool. This man I have hated with such passion was dead. It was what I wanted. Him. Dead.
But I didn’t.
” You son-of a-” Like a demon possessed, I charged. he let out a surprised grunt as I tackled him to the floor. I flung the prod wildly ,zapping him in the side of the head and neck. His high-pitched screams fueled my rage as I plunged the prod into his sides repeatedly. My fun was cut short when large muscular arms encircled my waist and pulled me up.
“Put the lightning stick down, little girl.” Unable to give up, I pinwheeled my arms and legs catching a vital part of his anatomy. His grasp around my waist released, and I twisted as I fell, jabbing the prod into his groin. He growled as he flinched away from the prod. He scrambled backwards his foot catching on the crumpled bed spread. He fell like a sack of taters, a sickening crack filled the room as his head collided with the utility cart.
One down. One to go.
I spun around, my prod at the ready.
“It would be a shame for you to have to meet the same end.” Pretty boy leveled the gun on me. “Put the stick down and open the mother fucking safe.” He moved his arm to the side and shot the lamp in the corner. “Now.”
My ears rang. I dropped the prod. Tears welling in my eyes. I had failed. There was no way in hell he would let me keep the contents of my safe. And I would rather be dead than go back and be indebted to the Boomers for the rest of my life. He pointed the gun back at me.
A sob bubbled from my chest as I moved to the safe. My vision blurred as I spun the dial three times and landed on the first number. I failed. What did I do to deserve to lose everything I have ever worked for? The door was only a few feet to my left. I could give him my life savings and live or die trying.
Someone in the universe was looking out for me. It could have been my Great Aunt Edna for all I know. The latch clicked and as if the safe handle was the light switch, the room plunged into darkness.
It was Divine intervention.
“Don’t fucking move,” Pretty boy growled.
His uneven step brought me joy to know that I got my licks in where I could. He moved past me and opened the door. Emergency lights in the hallway shined dimly , Pretty boy’s silhouette outlined . He peered up and down the hallway.
I reached inside the safe. My heart thudded in my chest as my fingers contacted the cold glass of my pickle jar. I pulled it out of the safe and tucked it under my arm, my eyes not leaving Pretty boys figure.
Cradling my pickle jar like a football I sprinted down the hallway and threw my shoulder into Pretty boys back. He stumbled into the hall hitting the wall. I hooked the door frame, redirecting my momentum down the hallway. Gunshots rang out as I rounded the corner toward the exit sign. My legs ached, my breath came in gasps. I was almost there. I hit the metal door with a thunk and pushed it open. The stairwell only had a small light below marking my next exit. With a firm grip on the rail I made my way down the stairs, stumbled around the corner and down the next flight to another metal door.
I burst through the door to see the lobby was crowded with people. If pretty boy made it down the stairs, he would lose me in this crowd. I didn’t slow down. I wove in and out of the crowd until I made my way through the revolving door. The city streets were still wet, the smell of summer rain in the air. Clutching my pickle jar I raced across the street and down the block to my truck. I opened the door and climbed inside, relief prickling my spine.
My hands were shaking so hard I couldn’t put the key into the ignition. My truck roared to life. I did it. I fucking did it. I slipped it into gear and stomped on the gas. I rounded the corner and headed toward home, letting out a victory whoop as the hotel disappeared behind me.
This is my contribution to the #WFGCHotel blog hop. There’s a story hiding behind every door… are you game enough to knock. Check out the Hotel Directory here:
The automatic glass doors parted, permitting Eerie to enter the bright lobby. Recessed lights were placed every three feet around the ceiling. Even if the sun weren’t shining through the wall-height windows, the lights would ensure this room was never dark. People milled about into lounges, bars, and conference rooms. A curved maple reception desk had too many stations, but only one receptionist in the typical white and black suit oft seen behind such welcoming barriers. Behind the desk, the wall read with “WINTER FALLS, GREAT CLIFFS HOTEL” in shiny, silver letters. Eerie moaned at the sign.
That means there’ll be heights.
As soon as Eerie crossed the threshold, her appearance changed. Gone was the casual white and grey outfit she had left home with. In its place were a thinning dark blue top, frayed jeans, and well-worn blue and white sneakers. Eerie frowned at her changed appearance. With a sneaking suspicion, she put a hand to her hair. Sure enough, it was wavy and draped messily around her shoulders.
She groaned as a man in his mid-twenties in a nice suit squeezed passed her. She muttered an apology, stepping out of the way of the doors. Well, that’s just great. She grumpily walked towards the reception desk repeatedly trying to Shift back into her preferred appearance.
At least the hole in her chest was not there. For Eerie knew exactly what this forced appearance was. Though why it was this way, she couldn’t yet guess. She sighed as she walked up to the lone receptionist and said, “Checking in.”
“Name?” the woman said, flashing a bright smile.
“Eerie-” she started. She realized that was just a nickname. Originally given to mock her for what she was – not that she was a demon that fed on emotions generated by spooky environments, but purely for the fact that she was a demon and people feared her, Eerie took a liking to it and adopted it for regular use. She grunted and said, “Eyra Sovolus.”
After a few taps on the keyboard, the receptionist looked up and said, “I’m sorry. I have no one under that name.”
“But my friend made a reservation!” When pressed by the receptionist who the friend was, Eerie replied, “He assured me he put us under separate names and separate rooms. His name is Simo Martin.”
More tapping. The receptionist looked up again. “Ah, yes! So he did. However, the other guest’s name does not match what you just told me.”
Oh no. Not that too. Eerie mumbled the name, “Tessa Rivers.”
“Yes, that’s it.” The receptionist brightly tapped more information into the computer. Suddenly, while the receptionist worked away, she asked, “No luggage?”
Was that a joke? Or was Eerie going to need spare clothes now that she was stuck looking like this? Regardless, she sniped, “I didn’t think I needed any.”
“You know, if you just found someone nice to keep you company, maybe you wouldn’t be so angry so much.”
Eerie felt her cheeks flush. It was a feeling she had not experienced in a long time. As a demon, her emotional state usually had no impact on her body. That said, Eerie was also usually a content individual. But the ghost of herself brought back to life without warning hit her like a bullet train. “Excuse me?”
“Like him perhaps?”
Eerie darted her gaze over to where the receptionist jabbed her finger. There stood a teenage goofball amidst his family. He cackled oddly at something she was sure was not funny. Eerie spun back around, scowling. “He’s a bit young for me, don’t you think?”
“Oh! Well, if you are going by that standard, perhaps him.” The lady pointed again. This time, her finger aimed at an elder gentleman who stooped as he talked to another elderly gentleman with a stoop.
“Stop that!” she demanded of the receptionist.
“All right,” the hotel employee sighed with her hands up in resignation. “I’m only trying to help you out.” She clicked one more key and said, “You’ll be in room five-oh-five. Here is your room key.”
“Five-oh-!” Eerie cut herself short. She gulped as confusion and fear filled her. Technically, there was no difference between Room 505 or Room 1000000000000000000000020. She may be plummeting down longer from the latter, but the effect would be the same either way. Her body would be unaffected by the impact on the ground. Nevertheless, as invincible as she was, she deeply hated that sinking feeling in her stomach, that powerful rush through the air, that falling gave her. “I asked for a room on the ground floor!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the lady shrugged apologetically. “All those rooms are taken. This was the best we could do with the request.”
Eerie didn’t even bother to say thank you or anything really. She just snatched the antiquated appearing key with its decorative hotel insignia dangling off the ring and stepped away.
“One more thing, ma’am!” the receptionist shouted, halting Eerie in her tracks. “Try not to kill anyone. We just found a dead guy who was thrown down the laundry chute. It made a bit of a mess on the linens.”
“When I kill, it’s clean,” seethed Eerie.
‘How courteous of you,” Eerie heard as she skittered away. At the elevators, there was a disheartening sign with the words “UNDER MAINTENANCE. PLEASE USE STAIRS.” over the summoning buttons. Of course, she sarcastically thought at the flimsy sign.
And even though changing her appearance did not work, she attempted to Shift herself to her room. An effort that proved equally futile. Yet there was one aspect of her demonic abilities that remained in place. She could see, read, feel, however one wanted to put it, all the souls within range. She also knew, that if she willed it, she could Consume any one of them for nourishment.
Technically, Consuming a soul – taking the very lifeforce out of one’s body and keeping it for herself – wasn’t necessary for immediate relief. She could Shift someone to a dimension within her being, a dimension that was otherwise unseen to mortals trapped in the physical realms, and provide them with emotions she could temporarily snack on. To make a comparison mortals would understand, that would be like munching on a few almonds; where as ripping the soul out of someone so that their body dropped dead and keeping it imprisoned experiencing the emotions she hungered for was like having a garage freezer stuffed with meats and vegetables to keep her sustained for years.
Eerie made yet another noise expressing her mounting irritation as she opened the door for the stairs. With each landing during the ascent, Eerie felt a tightening in her chest. She whimpered as she took the next flight up.
At the fifth floor, the door swung open. A loud smack echoed sharply down the corridors as the knob struck a plastic line that ran the length of the wall. Eerie stepped out and marched towards her room, which thankfully wasn’t too far away. “505” was visible on the door facing her from the corner where two halls met to the right.
Eerie passed a curly, redheaded cleaning girl bearing a small nametag of “PHOEBE” as she stomped her way over to her room.
“What got your panties in a twist?” murmured the young lady.
Eerie’s scowl deepened as she focused on getting to her room. Though Consuming the soul of that maid was tempting. The person had just the right mix of hope and lightheartedness to make for a good meal to add to her collection.
She fumbled around with the key and rammed the door with her shoulder as she turned the knob. Eerie realized she that while she still possessed all the souls she had ever Consumed, she was disconnected from them. She could no longer affect the realities in which they now existed nor could she determine what they were experiencing.
Like most of her kind, she cared for the souls she had taken. Of course, “care” meant something to each demon. While Eerie would gain sustenance from any soul she Consumed, some were better than others. For her, that meant largely the innocent and hopeful. Eerie attributed her specific hunger to the emotional and spiritual state she had been in when she was murdered at the young age of sixteen two centuries ago.
Tessa Rivers, the young girl was merely an identity that Eerie had made the conscious choice of parting with when she became what she was today. Tessa would have never hurt another living creature. It wasn’t in her kind nature. So why continue with that name and appearance when her whole existence was based on taking life – by literally sucking the souls out of individuals – as a means of food?
Yet even as the souls she took early on in her years as a demon no longer provided the required energy to go on, she still possessed them within her. They existed in worlds she created for them. She was one of those that, despite the meager energy they provided – too low to even maintain the universes she made for them – she had a difficult time of letting them go. There would come a time when they had to be released of course. Too many souls too weak to be valuable means she would have to kill even more people to maintain it all. She rued the day she knew would come. She loved the souls she had. Relished in them.
She recalled the first souls she ever took: an early twenties couple filled with joy and love for each other. Though she later regretted taking someone so early in life, it’s what she most yearned for. And she still cared for them and let them relive their dreams over and over again in the time since. One day, and in her long lifespan she knew it was relatively soon, she would have to let them go.
Eerie wiped away a tear while she sat on the neatly made bed.
She rose and meandered over to the sliding door leading to the balcony, ignoring the rest of the cheap furnishings in the room. Already, her chest pinched into a small space as she gazed outside. She opened the door and stepped through. The sound of the water tumbling over the edge below amplified from a low rumbling to a painful vibration now that a dual-paned glass no longer protected her ears.
A pit formed in her stomach as she looked over the railing. Far below, the water trailed off into a dark abyss. But she could see why this place was called Winter Cliffs for the snowy white appearance to the rocks around the rushing water.
Ground floor wouldn’t have mattered.
Seeing no bottom to the waterfall, Eerie concluded the floors between would have no appreciable difference if she went over the edge. She gulped and darted back into the room. Her eyes glossed over its sterile appearance. There was no sense in staying there. Her meeting with her supposed friend was only a few minutes away. And it might bring her comfort if she were deeper in the hotel halls so she could not see the drop below. Unfortunately, going out also meant going up for her friend had made the arrangement for them to meet at the tenth – gulp – floor observation deck.
Eerie sucked in a deep breath and headed out. She returned to the stairs. Once inside, she screwed up her face as she saw that the stairs did not continue upward.
“What the hell?” she said aloud to no one. She could’ve sworn they had gone up before.
With the elevator still out, Eerie wandered the halls until she found a door that said “TO SIX” above the door. The next floor was just as frustrating until she found the door leading up one more floor. By the time she reached the eight, the task was getting quite tiresome, especially knowing there were still two more to go.
Along the way, she heard an odd, animalistic snort and groan from around the next bend. Eerie decided to investigate despite her instinct to locate the next set of stairs leading up. She paused as she saw a brown goat with a white spot on one side of its belly. If it wasn’t odd enough that there was a damn goat wandering the hotel halls, it was also gnawing on a cigar!
“What the…?” Eerie walked forward as the goat moseyed as if she wasn’t there. Without a reason why, she snatched the cigar from the goat’s mouth and tossed it to her side. It ricocheted off the wall and landed a few feet behind.
Feeling some odd sense of accomplishment now that that was done, Eerie forged on in search of path upwards. When all of the sudden-
Pain! She felt real pain just now! Why? She was a demon! This wasn’t possible! She looked down to see the goat making another lunge forward with its head and bit her fingers again.
She quickened her pace and the goat charged after her, smashing her into the wall. As soon as the jarring hit stopped echoing in her head, the damned goat bit into her leg!
“All right, all right!”
Eerie spun around escaping the chasing goat. She bent down and scooped up the cigar as she passed it. She threw it over her shoulder. Thankfully, it landed where she hoped, in front of the goat where he could see it. She sighed with relief when the goat bent down with its head and picked the cigar up with its teeth. It continued to amble slowly onward while chewing on the cigar end as if nothing had interrupted it. Eerie grunted at the goat and moved on.
After taking the stairs up to Floor Nine, once again she was greeted with another oddity – incessant, but irregular clicking emanating through the door of Room 901. With her fingers and thigh still aching, Eerie was apprehensive to enter. Despite the fresh pain still tormenting her, she grabbed the knob with her uninjured hand and tested it. To mild astonishment, the door opened. The nonstop noise only became painful as it echoed out into the hall.
The door swung inward at the slightest movement. Eerie was sure it was a trap. Yet, curiosity compelled her towards this noise that was familiar somehow. It had been so long and none of her imprisoned souls recognized it. But Eerie did. As soon as she stepped into the room far enough, she remembered.
Behind it, and typing away mercilessly, was an undernourished man with glasses in blue pajamas. She stepped over to just behind him, peering over his shoulder as he continued to peck away at the keys with only his index fingers. What the…? There was nothing appearing on the page as each typebar smacked the paper. Was he out of ink? She thought about addressing him, but decided against interrupting his so-called work. Somehow, she believed he wouldn’t notice her anyway.
So, Eerie sidestepped and looked at his stack of pages, thumbing through the one thousand sheets of blank text. The writer didn’t pay any heed to the fact that she made the top inch of his stack uneven. He even yanked the page he just finished and carefully placed it on the stack. With his hands bumping the edges of the lower pages, he straightened them all out. Then, he put another piece of paper through the platen on the typewriter and hammered away at the keys.
Eerie shook her head at the odd man and left.
Returning to the focus at hand, Eerie set out through the halls trying to figure this place out. She decided to meet her damned friend and then leave this damned place. If she didn’t know any better, she would have guessed she was inside a demon that fed off fears or pain. After all, this place seemed to play to her fears and anxieties. Then it inflicted actual pain!
But Eerie did know better. There were no other demons in the hotel. She would have sensed one if it was nearby. No, it must be the nature of this dimension that did this to its guests. Yet, everyone else she observed was, for the most part, enjoying themselves.
So why was it toying with her? Playing on just about everything that truly upset her?
She was quick to admit that most mortal individuals didn’t like what she was, what she did. Why would they? All they knew, all they understood was that she killed people to feed on their souls. Having been a mortal once herself, she perfectly comprehended their distrust and dislike for her. And while her tastes were towards what they considered the innocent, she had always treated those she took with respect and let them live an eternity of dreams. By anyone’s standards, that was endless kindness. Regardless of that, Eerie, in a period of self-doubt began Consuming the souls of the not-so-desirable. But whether she took the beloved or the despicable, it didn’t matter. Nobody cared if they thought her victims deserved it or not. She was a demon. She Consumed souls.
Was the explanation really that simple? Because mortals reviled her, this hotel treated her with the same contempt?
Regardless of the answer, Eerie decided to leave this stupid dimension as soon as she found Simo.
Right! And that FLOOR TEN sign was a good start. Eerie was more than flummoxed by the fact that, in addition to toying with her like she was its personal plaything, it also behaved like a labyrinth – changing shape and form as she went along encountering weird creatures and individuals. And she had had it with this place that so brazenly humiliated her!
On her way to the door, a little present entered her view. Red curly hair pushing a cart to the next room. Eerie wasn’t sure if staff typically worked more than one floor on the same day in a place this size. Perhaps someone called in sick. Did it really matter?
A crooked grin played upon Eerie’s lips. For even though she was unable to Shift – either for appearance or to change location – in this hotel and it was bestowed upon her to experience pain, she still had a lot of physical strength. Not the unlimited amount she possessed in the universe she came from, but more than enough for what she wanted to do.
The maid must be used to all kinds of footstep noises in her line of work. Thus, someone walking heavily and quickly, perhaps someone late or upset, was not something to acknowledge. Again, it didn’t really matter either way.
Eerie surprised the redhead by grabbing a fistful of her locks while simultaneously chopping her elbow that gripped the cart. With a powerful shove, Phoebe cried out as her nose cracked against the cart’s handle. The maid spun around to get a look at her attacker. Blood poured from her broken nose as she sobbed.
“Say goodnight!” Eerie delivered a punch at the same moment as her words.
Phoebe didn’t even have time to react. The smack of skin on skin reverberated down the halls. Phoebe staggered back against the wall and slumped to the floor unconscious.
Eerie smiled at her handiwork for a moment. Then bent over and lifted the limp maid. Carrying her over her shoulder, she took her victim of assault to the nearest laundry chute. With her free hand, Eerie pulled open the chute access and dumped the poor girl head first into it. Immediately, she regretted that. If there was no bin of linens to catch her at the bottom, she would surely die. Eerie held her breath as she tracked the spirit of the maid all the way down. Eerie breathed again when the downward motion stopped and the maid’s soul had not become separated from her body. After all, she didn’t want to kill the poor girl. But hopefully now, she will know there can be consequences to such a snooty attitude.
Then she remembered her promise to the receptionist. Oh well, she shrugged. She only said she killed clean. Besides, the maid might enjoy the irony of having to clean up her own mess.
Finally arriving on the tenth floor, Eerie checked to make sure she had none of Phoebe’s blood on her. There was none. And thank goodness too, for Eerie saw groups of people dressed in business suits milling around. One couple apparently snuck off. They wedged themselves into a recess away from the others. Fortunately, they were too busy paying attention to each other’s mouths to notice her passing by.
Eerie suppressed a hunger pang as she strode past them. Not that she needed to eat, but their individual hopes and desires they had in that moment culminated into an intoxicating aroma to Eerie’s spiritual senses. She couldn’t read their thoughts or minds, but their souls were bare. Before this moment, they had both been lost, adrift in life. Now, they wondered if they finally found what they had been looking for in their short lives. And that rise in emotion wasn’t just a fleeting event, it actually touched both on the spiritual level.
Of course, Eerie could detect them before she even saw them with her eyes. So, it was no surprise that their arms were wrapped tightly around each other as they made out. The woman looked as if she was trying to climb the man who had bent down so his lips could meet hers; their suits wrinkled and twisted from their physical lust.
Eerie just raised her eyebrow and moved on.
As she got to the intersection where most of the other business folks conducted their interactions with far more decorum and professionalism, she saw that the elevators were once again working as fresh arrivals stepped off.
These business folks seemed to be everywhere!
But, in the midst of it all, appearing out of place with his khaki shorts and white polo shirt – clothing she had never seen him wear before – was Simo. Despite her change in appearance, he had no trouble recognizing her. Affixed on his goofy face was a rather wicked and knowing grin. Eerie contorted her face in confusion as she approached him.
“So?” Simo spread his arms. “How does it feel?”
“How does what feel?” Her loud words quieted the room. All eyes fixed on her, then followed the exchange.
Simo’s sinister grin flickered at the anger in her tone. He forced it back into place. Only now, it was merely an act, a production of confidence where there was none. Her unexpected outburst shook him to his very soul, Eerie could see.
“Yeah, you know,” he stammered. Then, he found his steady voice. “How does it feel to go through what you do to your victims?”
“I mean,” Simo went on, sidestepping to an arched window overlooking the falls, a bit of a chuckle breaking into his words. “I know it was only for a few minutes, but I bet it freaked you out, didn’t it?”
“Wait a minute,” fumed Eerie. Her nostrils flared as she leaned in on him. “You are responsible for what’s been happening to me?”
“Yeah,” he chortled. “Pretty sick, huh?” While Eerie was certain Simo was using that term in a different manner, she thought, Sick is right. “I put in a special request when I made our reservations. Oh come on, it was just a joke!”
“Do you have any idea what’s been done to me today? Do you even know what this is?” Eerie curled her fingers inward, indicating her body.
As Simo looked her up and down, Eerie actually wanted to tell him about how, when she was a mortal, she was murdered. That some fool who wanted to experiment with souls and ghosts killed her for “science.” But the betrayal of her perfect world, the resulting anguish turned her into something far beyond what the mad man expected. It had taken her years to track him down. Because even though her transformation was instantaneous, her demonic spirit emerged far from him. It also didn’t help that he had hid in the bushes when he shot her, never allowing a glimpse at her killer. When she finally and vengefully claimed his soul, Eerie learned of his disappointment at the time that she hadn’t turned into a ghost he could talk to. Yet, she still let him live his demented dreams within her. There, he couldn’t hurt anyone else. At least, not anyone who actually existed.
But Eerie decided not to let Simo in, to learn just how much his little prank affected her.
“Not to mention the potential damage you may have done to the souls I care for!”
“You mean to tell me that after all the years you’ve known me, you didn’t know?”
“I am not a Fear, Pain, or Sorrow demon!”
“And if it weren’t for the promise I made back home, I WOULD MAKE AN EXCEPTION WITH YOUR SOUL!”
Then, without given him even a chance to squeeze in his next syllable, Eerie slugged him hard. His head snapped back and he flailed, crashing into the nearby buffet table. Limply, he rolled off it taking with him a dozen dishes filled with food and half the tablecloth.
She huffed as she pivoted on her foot to exit. The crowd was quick to give her a wide berth as she stormed out. Re-entering the hall, she felt whole again. Her Taken were with her again. She hugged them all at once in their own, individual dimensions promising the distressed souls extra dessert on top of their dreams.
Just as importantly, she could Shift again as well. As she poofed out of the hall, the last thing she heard was the stifled cry of someone who just discovered that the two crumpled bodies in a particular side hall recess were dead ones.
You know your day is off to a great start when you wake up and your first thought is “No”.
Alexis woke with the early afternoon sun streaming in through her window, a mouth that felt like someone had dumped a tray of kitty litter in it, and a herd of elephants tap dancing its way through her head to the tune of Riverdance. Goddamn tequila shots.
Prying her eyes open, she rolled to face the door and found herself staring at her partner, covered in glitter from head to foot.
Alexis’ second thought was, “No.”
Tabitha rolled her eyes and handed her a bottle of water and pain killers. “You’re not even going to hear me out, just no?”
Alexis swallowed a couple of pills and drained the bottle of water before lifting her gaze to her friend. “Nope, not interested. You’re on babysitting duty and I’m on vacation. Pretty sure I’m winning in this situation.”
“You sure about that? You look like shit.”
Alexis hauled herself out of bed and dragged her hair into a loose ponytail. “I may look like shit, but it’s nothing a fuck-ton of coffee and a hot shower can’t cure. And I’m still on vacation. You get to go to work looking like Tinkerbell for days.”
Tabitha’s reply was interrupted as Alexis’s phone vibrated its way across the bedside cabinet. She answered without bothering to check the number, “Reynolds.”
“Good you’re awake,” Taylor Rivers’s voice rumbled down the line. “I know you’re on vacation, but–“
“No.” Alexis disconnected the call and made her way out of her room.
“Did you hang up on the Boss?”
“Yes. What part of ‘I’m on vacation’ do you people not get?” Alexis stumbled over the pair of shoes scattered down the hall.
“Lex, there’s something …” Tabitha trailed off as Alexis stepped into the living room and froze.
Blinking slowly at the sight before her, she mumbled, “I’m pretty sure I didn’t drink enough to still be hallucinating at one in the afternoon.”
“We have a bit of a situation,” Tabitha said from over her shoulder.
“No shit, Sherlock,” she said. “Why the fuck is Dante Griffin standing in my living room, half-naked and covered in neon body paint.”
Dante turned, bright ice blue eyes peering out from beneath the fluorescent pink paint that covered his front.
“Umm,” Tabitha said as Dante ran a hand through his hair sheepishly.
Alexis rolled her eyes, “Ya know what? Don’t answer that”. She turned on her heel and stalked to the kitchen, leaving her unwanted guests staring after her. When she emerged moments later, she held a bottle of tequila in her hand.
“Should you really be drinking more?” Tabitha asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You’re not the boss of me and for the last time, I’m on vacation. Fuck off.” She pointed a finger at Dante and added, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.” She stomped back towards her bedroom, tripping over her shoes again, before slamming the door shut and collapsing on the bed with a huff.
Even as hungover as she was, she was still too sober to deal with the fact that Marc Dante Griffin, bit-part actor, and her high school crush, was standing in her living room covered in glow-in-the-dark body paint. She looked mournfully at the tequila, before placing it on the floor with a groan. She wasn’t going to be drinking that anytime soon. Her partner wouldn’t be in her apartment unless she needed help and Alexis couldn’t turn her away. When her phone rang for the fourth time in as many minutes she answered with a resigned, “So how badly did he fuck up, and what am I doing with him?”
* * *
“Tell me again, why I am stuck in a car with you for the next twenty-four hours, while we ‘drive’ from Missouri to Vegas?” Dante whined into the window.
Alexis rolled her eyes, squinting as the lights of an oncoming vehicle lit up the interior in a flash of monochrome. “You mean other than the fact you managed to get yourself thrown out of three clubs, left your PR manager dealing with enough paperwork she could single handedly deforest the Amazon, AND you managed to insult the only person in town with links to the Sicilian Mafia?”
“Okay first off, how was I supposed to know he had Mafia links? It’s not like he had it tattooed on his forehead or anything. Second, he deserved to be insulted. I don’t know what he served, but it sure as hell wasn’t pizza.”
You’re not wrong there. No one went to Milo’s for the Pizza. “And your excuse for getting thrown out of the clubs?”
“I was a little drunk,” he mumbled.
“A little?” Alexis glanced at her passenger in disbelief.
“Hey, I was still wearing my pants. I wasn’t that drunk.”
“Marc Dante Griffin, you turned up in my apartment, half naked, covered in glow-in-the-dark body paint and glitter. The only way those pants were yours, would be if you’d changed your name to Candy and taken up stripping.”
Dante’s face was almost as pink as the body paint he was wearing hours earlier as he tried to deny the accusation and couldn’t. “I’ll admit I did something stupid, but why are we driving across the country? Why not fly?”
It was Alexis’s turn to sigh, her hand clenching the steering wheel tight. “I don’t fly.”
Alexis could feel Dante’s eyes on her as she stared at the roadway in front of her. “You heard me. I don’t fly.”
“You. You threatened a guy who had at least a half a foot and a hundred and fifty pounds on you, with a Taser to his balls if he didn’t get out of your house. You swore at your boss and told him where he could shove his idea of a vacation and you work in security. But you are afraid of a three-hour flight?”
“‘I’m not afraid, I just don’t fly.”
“You’re afraid,” he taunted.
“Say that one more time and you can get out of the car right now.”
“Yea right. We’re going eighty-five down the highway in the middle of nowhere. I can’t believe you’re afraid of flying.”
Alexis’s knuckles turned white as she held the wheel in a death grip. “Did I stutter Griffin? I’m not afraid of flying, I just don’t. And if you don’t shut up about it, I have no issues with duct taping your mouth shut for the duration of this trip.” Her phone rang, cutting off any retort Dante had forming.
“What?” Alexis answered the call with a snarl.
“Nice to talk to you too Reynolds. Where are you?” Taylor River’s voice crackled across the speaker.
“Ass end of Nowhere, Texas.”
“Of course you are.” Alexis could almost hear the eye roll in her boss’ voice. “I suggest finding the nearest hotel and stopping for the night.”
“Excuse me? Why would I do that? The sooner I get to Vegas, the sooner I can ditch my tag-along and actually start my vacation.”
“Let me put this another way, Reynolds. It’s not a suggestion. The Idiot features PR manager has strongly suggested you stop so he gets his six hours of sleep. Because as she so politely put it, he’s a dumb fuck when he’s tired.”
“Dumb fuck is his usual state,” Alexis grumbled.
“Hey, I’m sitting right here,” Dante spluttered.
“This conversation would be a waste of breath if you weren’t Griffin,” Taylor deadpanned. “Now, use your supposed acting skills, pretend you like your bodyguard and convince her to stop for the night before she throws you out of the car. You’re paying for the room by the way.”
“Why am I paying?” Dante asked as the dial tone echoed around the car.
“Because this situation is entirely your fault. I’m supposed to be getting drunk with friends. Instead, I’m stuck ferrying you across the damn country.”
“If you flew, you’d be getting drunk faster,” He flinched as the door he was leaning against unlocked. “Umm,” he squeaked, staring at Alexis a little wide-eyed.
“I’m going to take the next exit ramp and find us a hotel, okay?” Alexis said calmly.
“Are you going to say anything stupid between now and when we get to the hotel?”
A hurried shake of the head this time, had Alexis biting on her lip to stop the grin from spreading across her face.
“Good, keep it up and you may make it to Vegas in one piece,” Alexis smirked, glancing at the GPS. Only fifteen hundred more miles to go — God help me.
* * *
“There’s one.” Dante pointed to the flickering vacancy sign in the distance. He’d been silent for the remainder of the trip, but tension had crept into his shoulders the longer they had driven through the silent town. Stopping for the night was all well and good, provided they could find something open at eleven pm on a Tuesday.
Alexis pulled the car to a stop outside the hotel, looking at the building with trepidation. It looked as if it had been plucked off a B Grade Horror movie set– broken neon “Hotel” sign and all. It was solidly built but in desperate need of a clean. Even with the spotlights shining on the building front, she couldn’t read the name clearly.
“Come on,” Dante said, sliding out of the car, overnight bag in hand. “It’s not like it’s the Bates Motel or anything.”
“Could have fooled me,” Alexis mumbled, grabbing her own bag from the back of the car and locking it. Standing in front of the glass entranceway, she glanced sideways at Dante. “You sure you want to stop here? It’s a few steps below your usual standard.”
He gave her an unreadable look before flicking his eyes back to the doorway. “Better than sleeping in the car,” he said, striding towards the entrance without waiting to see if she was following.
Alexis took a breath, letting it out slowly before following Dante into the building, silently hoping that the hotel at least had decent coffee and a continuous stream of hot water.
Stepping through the doors, she smacked into Dante, who had stopped, staring at the lobby in disbelief.
“Get out of the doorway you idiot.” Alexis shoved him to the side, then did her own double take at the scene. “I feel like we’ve stepped into the twilight zone,” she muttered under her breath.
Dante nodded, his mouth hanging open.
The lobby was pristine. Comfortable chairs and couches were scattered throughout the area. In one corner, near the elevator, a large tree appeared to be growing out of the highly polished floor, and a large reception desk lined the far wall. Despite the rundown, horror movie exterior, they’d clearly stepped into a upmarket establishment.
“Definitely not the Bates Motel then,” Dante said.
Alexis rolled her eyes and shoved him not so gently towards the receptionist. “Go get us a room.”
* * *
He was mad. So mad, Alexis was kind of surprised there wasn’t steam pouring out of his ears as he slammed open the door to their room. She only just resisted rolling her eyes at him as she followed him in, the door closing gentler than it had been opened.
“All right Griffin, what’s got your knickers in a wad this time?” she asked, throwing her bag on the bed closest to the door.
Dante spun around, glaring at her, a scowl on his face that probably would have had her peeing herself if she hadn’t spent most of her high school career, watching him try to perfect it.
“This time?” he clenched his fists, “This is just the icing on the cake. Not only are you dragging me sideways across the country by car, now I’ve gotta spend my downtime with you, confined to one room?”
“I’ve already explained why we need a single room, Griffin. Just be thankful she gave us a double and not the single she was itching to.”
Alexis pinched the bridge of her nose as he gaped at her. She was struggling to remember why she’d had a crush on the blue-eyed, brunet idiot and how she’d missed how dense he was.
“Okay, your PR manager wasn’t kidding. You really are as thick as two short planks when you’re tired. The receptionist’s eyes lit up like the fourth of July when I said we needed a single room. She was this close to humming the wedding march until I said a double.”
“Why…” Dante paused, swallowing hard as his eyes darted around the room, “Why would she do that?”
“You’re an actor, why is this so surprising for you?” Shaking her head, Alexis opened her bag, digging through it for a change of clothing. “Maybe call and ask her. And while you’re at it, you can order up some food. A burger if they have one.”
” What are you going to do?”
Alexis glanced up and found Dante staring at her, less angry than when he had set foot in the room. “I’m going to have a shower, eat whatever you get around to ordering from room service and pass the hell out for the next six hours. I don’t care what you do, just as long as you do it in this room.”
She turned and headed to the bathroom when he made no attempt to move, standing in the middle of the room as if he’d become one with the decor.
* * *
Turning the water on to heat, she stood in front of the mirror staring at her reflection, wondering if she was getting too old to keep up with the job. Wondering if she should have told her boss the true reason she hadn’t wanted to take the security job, a reason that had nothing to do with the fact she was on vacation.
Sea green eyes stared tiredly back at her as she untied her red hair from its ponytail. She sighed. Maybe she needed to sleep and it wouldn’t be so bad in the morning.
Alexis groaned quietly and pushed herself away from the sink. “Yea right. You’re about to sleep in the same room as your high school crush. There’s no way this was going to be okay in the morning.”
She stripped and stepped into the shower, contemplating drowning herself under the hot spray.
* * *
Twenty minutes later she emerged sufficiently pruned, looking like a lobster, to find room service had arrived. Dante sat cross-legged in the middle of his bed, devouring the food.
“Dinners just got here, still should be hot,” he said around a mouthful of burger as sauce dripped down his shirt.
“Thanks. Should still be enough water for another shower,” Alexis said, shaking her head slightly as she stepped towards her bed and the dinner spread out across the sheets. She shouldn’t have found that attractive–no one should have. But her heart was starting a rapid-fire drum solo in her chest. Sheeze, get a grip. You’re a grown woman for god’s sake, not a giddy teenage girl. Swearing silently as a sharp intake of breath emanated from the bed behind her, she wished she’d grabbed a t-shirt instead of a tank top to sleep in. A top that did nothing to hide the tattoo across her shoulder blades: angel wings of blue and purple flowed down her back and around her rib cage and draped themselves across her shoulders and down her arms to end at her elbows, The tattoo hid scars, reminders of the accident that stole her husband.
Steeling herself for the inevitable questions, she grabbed her phone and leaned against the wall, facing Dante as she dug into her dinner.
To his credit, he just blinked and said, “Your phone has been having a monumental meltdown for the past ten minutes by the way.”
Glancing at the screen, she discovered her notifications increasing at an exponential rate before her phone flashed with an incoming video call.
Rolling her eyes, she said, “Sorry, gotta take this drunken FaceTime otherwise she’ll phone all night.”
“That’s fine, going for a shower,” Dante said, grabbing the clothes from the end of his bed as Alexis hit the accept button.
“Hey, Reese’s Pieces.” The blonde on the other end slurred.
“Oh god. Everything else died after high school, why the hell couldn’t that nickname,” Alexis groaned.
“Oh, come on there’sh nothing wrong with the name.”
“Sure there isn’t, Snickers.”
“Hey, I suit mine at leasht.” Ashley said, then hiccoughed. “I’m schweet.”
“And completely nuts. Who the hell did you drunk dial Ash?” Alexis heard a voice call out before the screen wobbled and a brunette appeared in view.
“Oh hey, Lex.”
Alexis raised an eyebrow. “Care to explain why I’m getting drunk-dialed Melory?”
“Oh no. You do not get to Melory me. This is your fault.”
“You are in Missouri, I’m in Texas and Snickers phoned me. Please explain how the hell this is my fault.” A second blonde entered the room from behind them, looking rather green in the dim light. “Oh.”
Melory smirked. “Oh is right. You do remember you are supposed to be here in Missouri, having a hens’ night for Laffy Taffy? There is no way in hell I can keep Snickers out of the booze, while I make sure Taffy doesn’t throw up her toenails.”
Alexis grimaced. She didn’t envy Melory’s job at all. Neither of the blondes could handle their alcohol well. “Sorry. If it’s any consolation, I’d much rather be there cleaning up, than where I am currently.”
Melory snorted, shuffling over to allow Kathy to collapse on the couch with a groan, while Ashley shuffled back against their legs, a drunken grin spreading across her face.
“Hey Laffy,” Alexis said with a soft smile, the scene reminiscent of many a night during senior year, although it would have been a sugar high rather than an alcoholic buzz they were coming off of.
“Reece’s,” Kathy croaked, her voice sounding like she’d been gargling razor blades for a few hours.
“How’re the toenails?” Alexis asked, shuffling back to lean against the wall, her arms resting on her raised knees.
“Still intact. Pretty sure my liver’s checked out though. Why aren’t you here keeping it out of trouble?”
“Oh please. She’d be the one plying it with more alcohol.” Melory snickered.
“Not like you wouldn’t be sitting right next to me with the next bottle opened Hershey’s.” Alexis grinned. “To answer your question, I got landed with one more job, Laffy.”
“You’re supposed to be on Vacation, Lex.”
“Believe me my boss is well aware of this, as is my client.”
“Will you still make it for my wedding?” Kathy’s lip popped out in a pout.
“Of course. We promised to make every major event in our lives. I haven’t missed one yet, and I don’t intend to start now. I will make your wedding, and I’ll even beat you to Vegas.”
“How’d you manage that?” Melory asked.
“Job’s escorting a client to Vegas. They need to be there around the same time as us.”
“Oh my god, someone got you on a fucking plane again,” Kathy said, her eyes wide in surprise.
Alexis shook her head. “Not in this lifetime,” she said darkly. Just as she had been there for all their major events, her friends had been there for the first crash that had shattered her ankle, and the second that had shattered her life. They may not have completely understood her fear, but they’d accepted her quirks and supported her while teasing the hell out of her about it.
“How did you get a client to agree to a fifteen-hundred-mile road trip in the middle of summer?”
“She didn’t ask,” Dante said, stepping into the room. Alexis had been so engrossed in the conversation that she hadn’t heard the bathroom door open, and she almost dropped her phone in surprise. “I’m being dragged across the country against my will.”
“If you hadn’t been such a dumb ass, you’d still be in Missouri and catching the next flight out,” Alexis snarked, almost swallowing her tongue as the ass bent over, digging into his bag — Why does the universe hate me, she groaned, the green and blue plaid sleep pants he wore hiding very little.
“Lex?” Melory asked, bringing her attention back to the phone.
“Nope, you told me to tell you he wasn’t my client,” she said. Melory’s grin got even wider, and she added, “You also know I can’t talk about my current assignments, so stop probing. Snickers, stay away from the booze, you’re a lightweight. Laffy, drink water between shots, your liver will thank you for it. And Hershey’s … Alexis paused as her friend twitched an eyebrow, her grin morphing into a wicked smirk. The kind of smirk that had gotten them into a myriad of trouble in high school.
With a small shake of her head, Alexis finished, “What can I say, you don’t listen to me anyway. Don’t let them get so drunk they can’t fly. See you in a few days.” She ended the call and dropped the phone with a groan.
“Interesting conversation,” Dante said. When Alexis glared at him, he shrugged and added, “I only heard the end of it. Guess the fear of flying has been around for a while then.”
Alexis clamped down on the urge to hurl her pillow at him. “You gonna be awake for a bit?” she asked, eyeing the laptop he’d dug out, not at all staring at the muscled shoulders and chest she could see over the lid.
Dante shrugged again. “Since I’m under house arrest, I figured I’ve got time to catch up on everything. That a problem?”
“Nope, don’t care what you do. Don’t leave the room and don’t post where you are staying.”
“I’m not a complete moron, you know,” Dante said softly, “Plus the fact I have no fucking clue where I am.”
“Texas.” Alexis picked up her phone and found a solitary text from Melory.
“You are so screwed 😉 Stop pining over him”
Alexis groaned and buried her head under her pillow. “I need better friends.”
Alexis woke with a start several hours later, still holding her breath. She let it out shakily, glancing at the other bed, its occupant still asleep, blissfully unaware of the nightmare that had jerked her awake. Grabbing her phone, she checked the time and flopped back on her pillow with a sigh. 3:17 am. She knew from experience she wouldn’t be getting back to sleep anytime soon. She clambered out of bed an hour later, cursing quietly as her brain continued to replay the accident in high definition and surround sound. The memory of the cold Hudson river washing over her, something that hadn’t happened in over a year. Glancing around the small hotel room, she grabbed her phone and blanket off the bed and stepped out onto the small balcony. Sitting on one of the small metal chairs, the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, she stared out across the town, watching as the world woke up in colors of pink and blues. The sounds of life drowning out the death of her dreams.
Silencing the alarm before it could start, Alexis looked over her shoulder as the balcony door opened. Two mugs of coffee poked through the curtains, followed by a barely awake Dante, his usually immaculate hair standing up in twenty different directions. He folded himself into the second chair with a grunt and shoved a cup at her.
“I think I remember how you take your coffee.” His voice was husky with sleep.
Alexis grabbed the mug and downed half of it as her brain gleefully reminded her that he looked as rumpled and goofy as he had for the entire senior year, before screeching to a halt as his words caught up with her.
She turned her head and stared at the man sitting next to her for a moment, “Dante?”
“Humm…?” His eyes were shut as he inhaled his coffee almost as fast as Alexis.
“How do you remember how I take my coffee?” she asked.
Dante swallowed, his eyes fixed on a spot on the horizon. “Um,” he whispered, red creeping across his cheeks rivalling the pink stealing across the sky.
Alexis blinked at him in surprise, briefly wondering how far down his chest the flush crept before her brain kicked into gear and she realized that she’d never actually seen Dante blush.
“You might want to answer that,” Dante said burying his face in his coffee as Alexis’s phone rang.
Alexis glanced at her screen and rolled her eyes before accepting the call. “Oh hello, my fair leader. What can I do for you at ass O’clock on this fine morning?”
“You really are the worst employee I have,” Taylor Rivers grumbled.
“I’m also the most efficient employee you have, so what else are you going to attempt to saddle me with. I’m supposed to be on vacation, remember.”
Alexis’s hand twitched as she listened to her boss swallow hard. He never showed any emotion. Not even when Alexis had shot out his knee cap when he’d snuck up behind her. Alexis scrubbed her hand across her face and muffled a groan. “Taylor?”
“Where exactly are you?”
“Butt fucking Texas. I can find the exit number if it’s important.” Dante flinched at her tone.
Alexis heard her boss take a breath, before he said, “We’ve lost Tulumeu.”
The phone creaked ominously in her ear. “I’m sorry . . . . . . You’ve gone and done what now?” Alexis asked, her voice honey sweet.
“Oh put a fucking sock in it, Reynolds. It’s not like you could have done any better,” Taylor snapped. “We know Tulu was assigned to deal with Griffin. We’ve been on his tail since the clubs but lost him about six pm yesterday.
Alexis rolled her eyes and buried her face in her palm. “Please explain to me how the fuck you managed to lose a five foot five, greasy haired wannabe hitman in fifteen hours? Especially one who lives above the restaurant he does security for and the only other place he goes is where Uber Eats sends him.”
“He does Eats?” Taylor mumbled. “How do you know this?”
She glared at her phone, wishing the technology allowed her to reach through it and strangle her Boss.
She took a deep breath and suppressed the urge to scream at him. “Because unlike you, I didn’t burn all my bridges when I left SWAT. People still talk to me.” Alexis downed her coffee as she listened to Taylor grinding his teeth in her ear. She knew he wanted to deny it, but he didn’t have a leg to stand on. “While you are trying to decide on a witty comeback, I’m gonna hang up and go pack.”
“Actually, you’re not. You’re in lockdown till we find Tulumeu.”
Alexis froze. “Lockdown?” She didn’t miss the way Dante flinched again and cast a fugitive glance in her direction. “This is Tulumeu, we’re talking about. If brains were made of dynamite he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose. The only way he’s dangerous is if you forget he’s stupid.” She stood and made her way into the room, hoping to be able to yell at her boss in private.
“I know the guy has issues finding up without instructions. He’s an idiot, but he’s an idiot with a gun. Let us find out if he’s still chasing Griffin.” Taylor said. “So, lock down it is. Enjoy the start of your vacation.”
“Spending more time locked in this hotel room with Griffin is not my idea of a vacation.”
“Tough,” her boss answered, ending the call.
Alexis stared down at her phone, anger seething.. Rationally she knew Taylor had a point. They had no idea if Tulumeu was still chasing them, and it made little sense to get killed on the off chance he was. That didn’t stop her fuming at Dante and his fucking awful sense of timing. If he’d waited another twenty-four hours he would have been someone else’s problem and she’d be starting her vacation how she planned to continue, drunk and partying up a storm, instead of being stuck in this hotel for the foreseeable future.
She flinched as her phone vibrated with an incoming text.
“Don’t kill the client. And don’t get your knickers in a twist. Extra days added to your vacation.”
Throwing her phone on the bed with a huff, she turned and found Dante standing in the doorway, his ice blue eyes still hazy with sleep despite the coffee. Alexis did a double take as he blushed, shyness not part of his usual repertoire.
“So, on a scale of one to ten, how badly do you want to kill me right now?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m hovering around the high thirties. But Taylor Rivers is currently higher up the shit-kicking list.”
“Ah.” Dante had the grace to look guilty. “So, how long are we stuck here for?”
“God knows. Until the rest of the team can find where one greasy Sicilian has managed to hide. Why couldn’t you have pissed off the rednecks?”
“There are rednecks?”
Alexis watched as Dante opened his mouth, making some abortive hand gestures as he tried to contradict her statement, before shrugging. “You have a point.” Taking a couple of steps towards his bed, he added, “Since we aren’t heading out any time soon, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Might as well, it’s not like we have anything else to do,” Alexis said, making her way to her own bed and collapsing in a heap, trying to decide whether sleep was going to be an option, or if she was just going to stare at the ceiling for the next few hours.
She watched as Dante crawled up his mattress, star-fished across the middle of it and was asleep in minutes. Alexis shook her head, wondering how the hell someone could fall asleep that quickly. Digging her phone out, she snapped a quick picture and sent it to her best friends.
I’m so fucked
The response was instant.
Alexis sent a picture of her middle finger. Dropping the phone to her chest, she stared up at the ceiling.
Yeah, I really do.
* * *
“Well, that was …” Dante stared at the TV.
“That was fucking awful, and if you suggest watching another one, I will shove the remote so far up your ass you’ll be able to change channels with your tongue.” Alexis had no idea what they’d just watched, but she was pretty sure her brain had dribbled out her ears an hour ago.
“Sorry Your Majesty, but there’s not exactly anything else to do in this godforsaken hell hole other than watch crappy TV shows or sleep.”
“So, go to sleep and quit whining. Us being trapped here is your fault.” Alexis stood, stumbling towards the bathroom. She needed to get away from Dante before she bricked his mouth up. They’d been needling at each other for the best part of six hours, trying to see who would snap first, and it looked as if she was going to win that particular challenge.
Locking the door behind her, she sat on the edge of the bath and stared at the floor, willing the simmering anger away. She knew it wasn’t all Dante’s fault. She was the one dragging them across the country because of her fear of flying–not a fear damn it. She had a pretty good reason for not flying. The crashes had failed to kill her twice, she didn’t want to give them attempt number three.
She sighed, the anger fading away now that she wasn’t facing him. He didn’t deserve all of the aggravation she was sending his way. When they weren’t sniping at each other, he was actually pleasant to be around, reminding Alexis of how he’d been back at school, which wasn’t helping her crush at all. Neither were the thousand snickering text messages she’d received from her friends.
When Alexis had calmed down enough to leave the bathroom, she found the TV off — thank god — and Dante had cleaned up the remnants of their lunch. He looked up from the manual he was holding and gave her a half smile that sent her heart rate skyrocketing.
“What?” Alexis asked, struggling to hear over the sound of blood rushing through her ears.
“I said I’m sorry. This is mostly my fault and I’m sorry you’re stuck with me for however long this takes to get sorted.”
Alexis blinked. She hadn’t expected to get an apology from him. She had her own half-formed in the back of her mind. As she fumbled for something to say, Dante took her silence as encouragement to keep talking.
“Um, so I know I’m not your favorite person today.”
“You’re not my favorite person on any day,” Alexis muttered.
Dante huffed out a laugh. “Okay, I’ll give you that. Do you think we could be adult enough to go out for dinner?”
He waved the book in Alexis’s direction. “Still within the hotel. Surprisingly there are at least five restaurants here.” Blushing, he added, “I need to get out of this room, I’m going stir crazy.”
Alexis looked at him for a moment, half of her brain doing cartwheels at the thought of having dinner with Dante, the other half trying to take control and slip back into protection mode.
Dante quirked an eyebrow. “You know, most people would jump at the chance to have dinner with Dante Griffin,” He said. Alexis caught a hint of self-loathing in his voice, and made up her mind, mentally telling her work self to take a holiday.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s Dante that’s asking.” She stepped forward, taking the book out of his hands, and glanced at the list of restaurants. Pointing at one she added, “Let’s get dinner at that one . . . Marc.”
He laughed softly, dragging a hand through his hair. “Holy shit, you do remember me. I haven’t been called that since I left for LA. And why would Dante not be asking?”
Alexis shrugged. “Pretty sure I’ve never seen Dante blush, ever. Yet, I have a clear recollection of Marc blushing so hard you were almost glowing.” She glanced up and watched as another blush crept across his features. “Yeah, just like that.”
Dante shoved her gently out of the way, “Shut up. So, dinner?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Dinner. On the proviso that if anything crops up, you follow my instructions without argument. Still have no idea where Tulu is.”
“Yea, I think I can do that. Kelsey will fire me if I get myself into any more trouble.” Dante gave her a small smile.
“And Taylor would take great delight at reaming me a new one if I let you get hurt.” Alexis looked down at what she was wearing, then grabbed her bag from the foot of the bed. “I’m gonna change, don’t think Pj’s are exactly dinner wear.”
Dante snorted and dug through his own bag for appropriate clothing.
A huff echoed down the silent hall as the lift doors closed behind the targets.
I have targets.
A snicker followed that thought as a figure detached himself from the large plastic tree he had hidden behind, running a hand through greasy black hair. Finding the targets at this hotel had been a surprise. Hell, the hotel was a surprise. He was sure he’d never been in here before despite visiting the address weekly to deliver food to Rooster Kirkpatrick on the Ground floor.
Tulumeu shook his head, trying to clear that thought from his mind. He knew he wasn’t the brightest of Milo’s security team, and having more than one thought at a time confused him. But what he lacked in smarts, he made up for in persistence and stubbornness. After staring at the closed door for a few minutes, making sure the targets weren’t going to come back any time soon, he made his way down the hall towards their room, thinking it might be fun to hide behind the curtains and jump out at them when they got back. And hiding would give him time to work out how to get them to come back and help Uncle Milo with his pizza recipes, because even he’d admit most of the pizzas tasted like soggy cardboard.
Tulumeu was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t realize he’d limped past the room he wanted until he was almost nose to chrome with the lift door.
Huh, missed it.
He turned around and peering back the way he’d come, blinking as the hallway seemed to swim and shimmer like a mirage and saw what appeared to be a tentacle weaving its way across the far wall. “Might go see if I can find them somewhere else. This hotel is weird.”
They rode in silence, leaning against the back wall of the lift as it returned them to their floor. Standing almost shoulder to shoulder, Alexis felt herself leaning into the body heat to her left. Dinner had been fun, more banter than snark. Opening up to each other over a bottle of wine, confirming that even though they’d spent twelve years at school together, they really didn’t know each other. And Dante had remembered her coffee order from the local diner she frequented as a Senior.
I worked in the kitchen. I wasn’t stalking. Honest.
She straightened up as the elevator ground to a halt between floors ten and nine.
The lights flickered, dimmed, and went out, the emergency lighting snapping on in their place.
“Well shit.” It was very soft and deeply heartfelt.
Alexis looked at Dante, mouthing “Fuck” as she pressed the buzzer for security since she was closest to it.
Moments later, a voice said, “Reception.”
Alexis rolled her eyes. Of course, it had to be the same receptionist as the night before. “Um…so, you probably want to hear this as much as I want to be saying it, but we’re stuck in the elevator.”
“Oh right. Of course, you are. Unfortunately, we have suffered a power outage throughout the entire hotel, that maintenance are working on repairing as soon as possible. I will send Waldorf to your location as soon as the power is back.”
Alexis glanced sideways, taking in Dante’s panicked stare. “Any idea what sort of time frame we are looking at?”
The receptionist barely paused. “Hope you two have something to read.”
“Well, fuck,” Dante muttered, sliding down the wall to hug his knees.
Alexis joined him on the floor, her arms wrapped around her own knees. “You okay?”
“Hmm,” Dante squeaked, his voice a couple of octaves higher than normal. “Don’t like confined spaces.”
“Oh. Can understand that. You want me to distract you?” Alexis asked, shuffling a little closer.
Dante nodded, his eyes wide and panicked.
Alexis smiled. “Why did you never talk to me while we were at school?” she asked before clamping her hand over her mouth in shock. “Sorry . . . you don’t have to answer that.”
Dante rested his chin on his knees, staring at a spot only he could see for a moment. “You scared me.”
Alexis’s mouth fell open. “I what?”
“You scared me. You were so on to it, you knew what you wanted and you really didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought of you. You hit high school with a plan for your life. I hit high school and lurched from one bad decision to another. Trying to fit in and failing miserably.”
Alexis tilted her head and looked at the man sitting next to her. “How did you fail? You were friends with just about everyone. The teachers all loved you, the Drama club got rave reviews for the three shows you were the lead in. I had three friends the entire time I was at high school. Was Emo before there was even a term for it. Pretty sure the teachers all cringed when they realized they had me in their class. The only reason I didn’t care what anyone thought about me was because no one actually gave a shit about me,” Alexis said. Then, laughing quietly, added, “I was so forgettable, I even got missed in that stupid bet during Senior year.”
“What bet was…” Dante trailed off and blushed furiously as the memory caught up with him “Oh, that bet.”
“Yea, that one. Did anyone actually win?”
Dante turned even redder, so much that Alexis started to worry he’d combust. “Um, did you get kissed by anyone in the Drama club?”
Alexis shook her head. “I didn’t get kissed by anyone outside of the Drama club either.”
“Then no one won,” Dante said, staring off into space again. “And you were not forgettable. It was a stupid bet. I never should have set it up.”
“You were the one who made that bet?” Alexis leaned back against the wall. That surprised her. Dante had been the least chauvinistic male of their year. “Why?”
Dante chewed on his lip before turning to look at her, ice blue eyes seeming to glow under the emergency lights.
“I did it because I thought it was the only way I was ever going to get to kiss you. I’d had a crush on you since our freshman year, and I was too scared to talk to you like a normal person.”
Alexis’s heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest, and a colony of butterflies took up residence in her stomach as she stared back at those eyes. “You what?” she squeaked, her brain derailed by his revelation.
A clunking from overhead had them both glancing upwards as the main lights flickered on.
“I guess the power’s back,” Dante said, scrambling to his feet and holding out his hand.
Alexis looked at it for a moment, before reaching out and letting herself be hauled off the ground. Standing in each other’s space, he mumbled, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
She shook her head slowly, “Yes, you should have. Twenty years ago would have been nice,” she said, a blush creeping across her face that almost rivaled Dante’s for intensity.
God, they were both bloody idiots.
Dante’s eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline as Alexis’s words registered. “You…” he paused as the doors slid open, then muttered, “What the hell?” at the sight in the hallway.
Alexis glanced over her shoulder and wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment. A tall, slightly dumpy gentleman wearing coveralls and a utility belt wasn’t that out of the ordinary. The hot pink and white striped beanie he wore a surprise. What tipped the sight over into the weird category was the small brown goat standing calmly next to the maintenance man, chewing on a cigar.
“Ah, Waldorf?” she asked dragging her eyes off the goat.
“Nope, Sergio. Waldorf’s the hat. Do you want it?” there was almost a pleading tone in the rough voice, as the small name badge on the front of the beanie flashed: Hi, I’m Waldorf.
Dante shared a concerned glance with Alexis, “Um…no…that’s okay. Will the goat attack if we get out of the elevator?”
Sergio glanced down at his furry companion. “Well?”
The goat chomped on the cigar and glared at the elevator before trotting off down the corridor.
Alexis and Dante stepped out into the hall with a sigh of relief. Looking around for the exit sign, Alexis said, “Let’s take the stairs back down.”
“End of the hall, turn left, follow the sound of typing,” Sergio grumbled stepping into the elevator. The doors closed, leaving them to stand in awkward silence. The good humor they’d found during dinner having disappeared with the lift.
“Come on,” Alexis said, leading them down the hall, casting side long glances at Dante, her heart still trying for a 12-8 drum solo. Watching Dante chewing on his bottom lip and his downcast eyes, Alexis decided to throw caution to the wind and talk about it. The lack of talking in High School had led them to pine on opposite sides of the campus for four years.
“So. You liked me when my hair was Rock star blue?”
Dante flushed. “And when it had washed out to snot green and you couldn’t decide what color to go next.”
Alexis cringed. “Bubblegum Pink probably wasn’t my wisest choice that year.”
“Oh, I don’t know, it made your eyes stand out more.” Dante threw her a small shy smile. A smile that turned her insides to jelly, something that hadn’t happened since her husband was killed.
“Ummm…” she mumbled intelligently.
“I also liked you when you dyed your hair black and went full goth for a semester.”
“Pretty sure I still have those corsets floating around somewhere.” Alexis said, then slapped a hand over her mouth as her face flamed. “Oh shit, just ignore I said that.”
Dante laughed. “Not likely. You looked good in those corsets.”
Alexis poked her tongue out at him. “Since we seem to be going for full disclosure here, I had a crush on you since I was about fourteen.”
“Really? I was tall and lanky at fourteen. I looked seriously underfed.”
“You also played Robin Hood in the school production and wore incredibly tight pants.”
Dante stopped, leaning against the wall as he laughed. “It was the pants?”
“It was the pants.”
Dante’s laughter faded away, his gaze flickering over her face. “And the reason you didn’t talk to me during high school was?”
“I was shy, and you were so far out of my league it wasn’t funny.”
“How did you figure that?”
“Hello, three friends remember? I was the weird one with technicolor hair, odd hobbies and the only school activity I did was stats for the freshman basketball team. You were friends with everyone, in most of the clubs at school. Out of my league.”
“So it’s only taken fifteen years to work out we’re both idiots.”
Alexis snorted. “Pining so hard there was a whole forest between us.” She gave him a rueful smile. Then frowned. “God, What is that noise?”
Dante’s brow creased as he listened, quiet, but rapid tapping creeping its way into the hallway.
He turned and pointed to the door to his left. “It’s coming from there.”
Alexis listened for a minute but still couldn’t place the strange noise. “Get behind me,” she said, her eyes flicking to the door that was slightly ajar.
Dante raised an eyebrow,
“Just humor me,” she said, slowly pushing the door open. There was no resistance, no push back from the self-closing mechanism. She glanced up. Okay, no self-closing device, explains why the door was ajar.
Stepping into the room, she noticed a sliver of light emanating from beneath the door at the far end, the rest of the suite clothed in darkness. A warm hand in the middle of her back had her twitching for a second.
“What are we doing?” Dante whispered, his breath sliding around her ear, leaving goosebumps in its wake.
“That noise is odd and the door was open. I’m making sure every thing’s okay,” she murmured back.
“You’re not a cop.”
“I used to be,” she hissed, “and it’s a little hard to switch that part of me off.” They’d reached the main doors and the tapping was louder, more of a clacking sound, followed by an occasional crisp metal crunch. She glanced behind at Dante, who shrugged, and turned the handle.
The door opened smoothly into a brightly lit bedroom, a bed in the far corner of the room, rumpled covers evidence of its use. On the opposite side of the room was a large wooden desk, a manual typewriter taking pride of place in the center. Seated behind the machine sat a skinny, sandy-haired man, in bright blue pajamas. Thin rimmed glasses, comically large were perched on his nose.
Alexis froze, blinking rapidly at the scene before her. The typewriter explained the noise.
Dante stepped up beside her. “Huh.”
They watched in silence as the typist reached the end of the page, removed it from the machine, and grabbed a clean sheet of paper.
“Umm,” Alexis said, looking at the used page, “there are no words on that sheet.”
The man looked up, suddenly realizing there were people in the room. He looked between them, down at the pile of papers beside him and back up. “The words will show when they are ready,” he said in a reedy voice.
Alexis cast a confused glance at Dante, who was looking equally perplexed.
The blank piece of paper was put into the typewriter and the typist paused, looking up again. “Okay since you two obviously aren’t going to kiss yet. Can you at least take two steps to the right so you don’t bleed all over my papers.”
“What do you mean bleed?” Alexis asked.
“Umm, kiss?” Dante said in a strangled voice.
“Oh, there you are. Come on, Milo wants to see you.” A voice boomed from the doorway, causing everyone to jump.
Alexis spun around attempting to shove Dante behind her as she recognized Tulumeu Sperlinga standing in the doorway, a pistol held loosely in his hand as he eyeballed the three of them.
“What do you want, Tulu?” Alexis asked wryly, watching as the gun switched between his hands as he nervously fidgeted.
“Ah, Uncle Milo wants to talk to him.”
She twitched as the gun was pointed in Dante’s direction. “He said the pizza tasted like crap.”
“You’ve got that right,” Dante said.
There was a sharp intake of breath, a sneeze and all hell broke loose. A bang and the smell of gunpowder filled the room. A searing pain radiated down Alexis’s arm, as Dante yelled, “Holy Shit!”
Alexis stumbled back, sitting on the edge of the desk, looking at Tulumeu in shock.
“You shot me, you prick.”
“I didn’t mean to, I sneezed,” Tulumeu whined, “I wasn’t meant to hurt you. Uncle Milo was very specific about that.”
“He wants to beat me up himself?” Dante asked
“What? No.” Tulumeu looked genuinely confused by that comment. “He wants your help to make his pizzas taste less like crap and more like food.”
Dante sat heavily on the edge of the desk next to Alexis, both their jaws threatening to hit the floor.
“You mean to tell me, Milo sent you after Dante, so he could get his opinion of pizzas?” Alexis asked when she finally got her brain working again.
“Yes.” Tulumeu’s answering grin was wide.
“I got chased across three states and Alexis got shot, all because your uncle wants to chat with me?”
“Yup.” Tulumeu nodded. “So, can we go now? Uncle Milo doesn’t have much patience.”
Alexis and Dante stared at him in disbelief, as the writer, sighed. “Kiki, I need the first aid kit, she’s bleeding all over my notes.”
That comment had them both glancing at Alexis’s left shoulder. Blood ran freely down her arm to drip off the point of her elbow and onto the desk. Dante’s tanned face turned green. She rolled her eyes. “Okay, if you are going to be sick, the bathroom is out that door. Tulu, why the hell did you bring a gun if you weren’t supposed to hurt us? And”– Alexis looked over her shoulder at the writer — “Who the hell are you, how did you know I was going to bleed on your desk and who’s Kiki?”
“I didn’t bring the gun. I found it on the body in the laundry chute,” Tulumeu said, dropping it to the ground.
“Body in the” — Dante shook his head– “This hotel has issues.”
The writer stood, moving towards the lamp in the far corner of his room. “This hotel does not have issues. It just has a lot of stories to tell. Stories that I write. Tim Ross. And I saw this accident coming about five thousand words ago. Although to be fair the sneeze surprised me.” He reached out a hand, accepting a large first aid kit that appeared to pass through the wall. “This is Kiki.”
She was definitely suffering from blood loss as there was no way in hell she just watched a metal tentacle wave at her, and nothing Tim was saying made any sense.
Tulumeu made a noise similar to a mouse being squashed. “Nope. Tentacle monsters is where I draw the line. I’m going home and taking a holiday. I’ve obviously been working too hard.” He turned and hurried out of the room, leaving his targets staring after him.
“Kiki’s harmless.” Tim shook his head and headed back to his desk. “Okay, since you are not going to throw up, hotshot, you can help me stitch her up so she stops bleeding on my desk and I can get back to writing. Thanks so much for the interruption.”
He dug through the kit, piling the supplies on the desktop, and handed Dante a pair of scissors with the instruction to cut her shirt.
Twenty minutes later, Alexis’s arm was bandaged and in a sling. The bullet had passed through her upper arm, meaning she only required a few stitches. The blood had been removed from the desk, and they had all but been shoved out of the room and the door slammed shut behind them. A muffled, “And hurry up and kiss, damn it,” following them down the hall.
“This hotel is fucking weird,” Dante said, an arm slung around her waist as he helped her down the stairs. The pain and loss of blood made her light headed, but neither of them had wanted to risk the elevator again.
“This whole trip has been weird. The hotel just takes the cake.”
Dante chuckled, “So what now? I’m not being chased by the mafia anymore.”
“My list of shit to do has gotten considerably shorter since that revelation. Still, have a few things to tick off though.” Alexis smiled up at him.
“And they are?” Dante pushed the door to the floor open, steering her through the opening.
“One, calling my boss to tell him I’m officially on holiday and he owes me sick leave as well as holiday pay. Two, ordering a few more bottles of wine and trying to forget this day ever existed. And three–” Alexis paused, blushing furiously.
“Was there a time frame put on that bet?”
“Ah, I don’t remember stipulating one. Why?” Dante’s voice dropped an octave, causing a shiver to run up her spine.
“According to the writer upstairs, there is supposed to be a kiss, and I’d kind of like to collect.” “I think that can be arranged.”
This blog post is in a raw, highly unedited form. I considered editing it, then considered not posting it at all. My final decision is based on one ideal: silence is complicity. I will not comply with fear.
This post is sporadic. It’s not journalistic. It is highly opinionated. By posting it I am doing what I can to stand with ALL the people of New Zealand, and fighting fear. I don’t care if you don’t agree with me. I don’t want you to follow, care about, or read me if you agree with the murderous bastards who destroyed so much in so little time.
In an era of mass shootings, New Zealand suddenly has to ask the question: Why?
Sounds like a standard headline for the United States these days. Not surprising. Everybody’s sorry and now let’s talk about…