Dan wasn’t hungry despite the fact that he had not eaten for goodness knows how long. His breathing was panicked and shallow, his head full of disbelief at the terrifying and claustrophobic situation that he found himself in. His nails were bitten down to the skin, and his knuckles were bloody and grazed.
He surveyed the scene with searching, worried eyes. In front of him, not three feet away, was a large double bed draped in white cotton sheets and royal blue pillows, neatly made and unslept in. It had been flanked on either side by matching bedside units, but one of them now lay shattered in pieces near the door. A red Gideon bible was lay open in in the middle of the room amongst the splinters.
To his right was a little side desk topped with a small flat screen television, plastic looking beige telephone, his keys, iPhone and his shoulder bag- his man bag as Anna had once called it, her nose had wrinkled as she said it in mock disgust. My God how he missed her.
Above the desk on the wall was the same print of three tree’s on a riverbank. On the wall beside the print there were two streaks of brown, dried blood.
Dan’s eyes shifted to a wardrobe at the far end of the room. Taller than his six foot frame, the wide fronted doors were shut and locked with a little ornate black key. The bathroom door, ajar, was reflected in its polished surface. Dan shifted uneasily where he sat, his instincts told him that nothing good could come from the glow emanating through that gap.
Keep away from that bathroom, something told him. There’s something in there, residing silently in that blue light waiting for you.
Behind him there was a large rectangular window, upon which icy thin fingers of rain tapped in hope of refuge. In the world beyond the glass, four floors down, rows of ancient trees stood like skeletons risen from their mossy graves- with dead, brown leaves hanging like flesh from their outstretched arms.
Dan turned and looked outside, certainly not for the first time and with a heightened sense of entrapment. Down below him on the grassy verge that separated the woods from the hotel car park he could see a man in dirty brown overalls squatted low over a small flowerbed, a scruffy black baseball cap protecting his head from the elements. My God, Dan thought to himself, an honest to shit real person! This was the first soul that he had seen since his incarceration. With excitement fuelled by desperation, he attempted to open the window but was thwarted by a safety hinge which gave him a two inch gap to the world outside .
Dan could not remember the last person he spoke to. The hotel manager, possibly? He drew in breath, preparing to shout out of the window when he was interrupted by a shrill ring. The telephone.
Dan crossed the room eagerly, and avoiding a glance into the bathroom picked up the receiver from it’s cradle.
Maybe this is that sour faced shit of a manager ringing to finally let me in on the practical joke?
Somehow, he doubted it. He hesitated for the briefest moment before raising it to his pale, stubbled face.
Silence except for the low familiar hiss of an open telephone line.
Go on why don’t you, draw it out, make me suffer that little bit more.
“Listen to me you twisted bastards,” he rasped, his voice exhausted and shaking, “I don’t know what game you think you’re playing here but..” He trailed off, looking at the white wall before him. “I need to GET. THE. HELL. OUT. OF. HERE.” He hated the tears that were threatening to surface in his voice. He didn’t want to give them the pleasure. The low hiss of silence drew on a while longer.
Maybe he’s sat down there now in the back room, surrounded by lever arch files and safety posters suppressing a giggle. I’ll bet the shift receptionist is tipping him a wink whilst waiting for the kettle to boil…
A receiver was placed down at the other end of the line.
Dan looked down at the beige earpiece, confused, angry and a little scared.
Am I losing my mind?
He returned the handset to the cradle. Immediately picked it up again and held it to his ear, tapping the hook. The line was absolutely dead.
“What sort of game are you playing with me here?” Dan shouted slamming the handset back down, he raised his shaking hands to sweaty temples and turned away, his head throbbing.
The rain redoubled it’s effort on the window outside and Dan glanced over at the rolling sea of grey clouds and the fading October day. It would be dark soon, and the thought filled him with dread. He returned and looked down, through the rivulets of water meandering down the glass and dripping past the two inch opening.
The man was still there despite the deluge, he was leaning over into what looked like a little tool box. He had green gloves on, marked with freshly disturbed soil. That’s a guy dedicated to his work… Dan thought, squinting slightly through the rain and the fading light.
“HEY!” Dan yelled, simultaneously placing his mouth to the opening and banging on the cold glass with his fist.
“Hey, you down there! Mate! Help, I’m trapped up here! Room 454!”
He hasn’t heard me? Surely he can hear me from up here.
“Look, I don’t care if this is some sort of joke- I won’t tell anyone, just let me out of this damn room!”
The man paused at mid point as he rose from his work.
“Yes! Yes! You. In the black cap! Hello! Help me! I’ve been here for days…”
The figure straightened and turned his head up towards the window, squinting slightly in the rain as the droplets splashed his face.
“Yes you, can..” Dan paused mid sentence and squinted back through the distorted lines of rain.
Why is the lunatic grinning at me like that?
It was at this point that he realised that the man didn’t have any lips.
The flesh around the gardeners’ mouth was mottled and scarred, the bone underneath a dirty white in contrast to the raw exposed meat around it. His nose was sunken as if the cartilage underneath had rotted and started to sink in the hole beneath. Above this a set of pale, lifeless blue eyes stared up at him. The figure stood there for a moment, and then removed his baseball cap- his doll-like eyes fixed on Dan’s face. At the same time he raised a gloved hand to scratch the hair underneath in a contemplative gesture.
Half of his head is missing! Dan thought, absurdly as he looked into a large hole where cranium and hair should have been. The meat and bone within had exploded outwards at velocity, there were small slug like pieces of flesh and shards of bone still stuck in the hair around the edges. Within was a bowl like chasm that looked like the badly scooped insides of a bloody jack-o-lantern.
The gardener scratched the ring of hair that remained around the hollow, and replaced the baseball cap. He then turned back to his labour, crouching down on the wet grass next to the flower bed, gloves digging in the wet soil.
What the hell is he doing?
Dan leaned forward and saw the fruits of the gardeners’ labour. A dull metal pipe lay semi-buried in the wet dirt, at one end there was a suggestion of wood. Walnut.
That’s not a pipe, that’s a shotgun.
Jolted by this realisation Dan spun away from the window, almost tripping over the chair in the process. He clipped his leg on the arm and landed on one knee at the foot of the bed. He could feel his chest tighten up with horror, it was harder to breathe.
What sort of bat shit crazy place is this?
One terrible thought formed in his mind like a solitary bubble rising and popping on the surface of a swamp- this is all real. The realisation jolted through him as a bolt of electricity. His skin tingled, and he could sense a deep juddering cold as beads of sweat formed on the surface of his clammy skin.
Dan reached over to the side desk and picked up his iPhone.
There is not a chance in hell that I am going to go through a night illuminated by the content of that bathroom.
His cold fingers shaking a little, Dan placed his thumb on the fingerprint reader and the screen came to life. Brightly coloured icons shone out at him, in the rapidly dimming light.
As expected the signal was none existent, it had been for as long as he’d been stuck in this room, but it was the battery that interested him more. There was less than ten percent capacity left. Eventually the little LED on his iPhone would expire, and he would soon be surrounded by darkness and that dark luminescence. This thought alone dredged a bucket of fear from the well of his stomach, and he wasn’t sure why.
There was probably an hour of daylight left at the most- I have to get out of this room!
Dan raised his hand and rapped his knuckles on the wall above the desk for what felt like the hundredth time. Absolutely solid. Plasterboard this was not. He had of course been resident in past places where sounds from adjoining rooms had kept him up at night.
He considered that this was not the only reason that he would lie awake in the cradle of insomnia. He still struggled with the idea that she was no longer around. He was so incredibly lonely.
He was struck by how silent the building was- Surely there were other people staying here?
At eye level just to his right was the print of three trees framed in black wood. They stood side by side on a calm river bank, their trunks a single chocolate brush-stroke and their leaves applied by sponge or something similar. It must be autumn there too, he thought.
The river below them was a deep aqua, calm strokes meandering along to a place out of view.
Dan reached out to touch the glass in the dusky light- to feel the solid wooden frame, something real, something created elsewhere outside of these four walls.
This was when the phone rang for a second time.
Reaching down he picked up the handset and placed it to his ear soundlessly. From a million miles away he could hear a quiet hiss of white noise. He swallowed, closed his eyes and listened. Seconds passed, and he was just opening his mouth to speak when he heard a single measured breath.
His eyes opened immediately.
“Hello?” He said, his voice wavering. “Look, I know there’s somebody there..”
Just the low hiss of an open phone line.
“Hello? Look, if this is some sort of joke it isn’t funny. I’ve been locked in here for God knows how long now and……”
His name was whispered so low but with such clarity that it startled him. He wheeled around with the phone to his ear, his attention drawn to the ever darkening sky outside. The rain was still falling, unrelenting.
“Hello, Yes.. Hello?” Mixed emotions rose within him, hope and panic. It almost stole his breath.
The static ceased with a click. The line was dead.
More out of hope than expectation Dan placed a finger on the hook again and pressed it a couple of times. Nothing. In an act of futility he dialled the emergency services, to no effect. Replacing the receiver, he turned his attention to the front door. As he crossed the carpet he focused on his destination, but sensed the phosphoresce growing from his right as he passed.
The bathroom door was much the same as the only door in and out of these quarters. Sandy coloured wood with a chunky brass handle, it stood around eight inches ajar. Dan could see in his periphery ceramic tiles on the wall, reflecting that horrible maddening light.
His only egress stood before him. He had of course tried to get out this way before, countless times, it was the first place he headed to after his initial grim discovery. Key card in hand, panicked and glancing behind him, Dan had twisted the catch and tugged on the handle. The door had not budged. His fists had pounded on this wood until they were red and sore, but it hadn’t even felt like giving. He threw the bedside unit at it, more out of frustration than anything and it had shattered into so many small pieces. It felt like someone had welded this door to it’s frame. Concrete could have been poured, filling the carpeted passage beyond it for all he knew.
There was a laminated map of the fourth floor on the back of the door complete with a little neon sticker proclaiming ‘you are here.’ Above this was a security Peep-hole at about chest height, a dark onyx iris set within a brass eye. It seemed like a lifetime ago when Dan had last placed his face to one of these following a knock on the door.
He had taken it upon himself to order room service in this very room before, when he and Anna were celebrating spending five years together. That really was a lifetime ago, it was also one of the reasons why he had returned now, to be closer to her in his own way.
A portly man with a name badge and black suit had been waiting with a silver service on a little trolley. He looked slightly stretched, like something from a fun-house mirror through this fish eye view. They had laughed at him before they had opened the door, smothered sniggers as he walked in.
Under completely different circumstances now, desperate to see a sign of life Dan looked through the spy hole. Outside he could see the corridor, it was as he remembered it. Within his frame of vision he could see three doors in front of him, each adorned with their respective number in brass.
The whole space was lit by flickering blue strip lights. This was a dying light, the last light that a living person sees before their flame extinguishes and fades to black. It was a horrible, maddening light that had no place on any spectrum known to man.
Suddenly, to his right Dan could see movement shuffling into view from out of the darkness.
It was a woman, or at least used to be. She wore petite leather boots, blue denim skirt and a t-shirt with the words ‘Sex Pistols: Never mind the bollocks’ printed on the front. Her arms were limp by her side as she struggled to press forward, her head low. As she grew closer he could hear her raspy, asthmatic breathing. Her hair colour was hard to tell under the throbbing blue light but it looked like it might be a dark shade of auburn. Her skin was incredibly pale.
Dan could feel his heart beating in his chest, could feel the throbbing rhythmic pulse rising in his ears. He could not move his face away from the peep-hole.
As she grew close to his vantage point, he could see that there was blood running down the outside of her left leg. The black river seemed to originate from her skirt, where there was a huge sopping patch on her hip. It oozed down her side, past her knee and down into her boot where it had already pooled. It was starting to spill over like an bloody waterfall.
Her other boot was the same, and now Dan saw that there was a black crimson bib of blood around her collar, where her chin rested against her breastbone. With horror Dan saw that her head was beginning to rise. Dan wanted to close his eyes, but he just couldn’t.
Please God, I don’t want to see this.
As the wraith levelled with the peep-hole, she looked up with white marble eyes, revealing a rotted leather face. Her neck was marked with a long red gash, and as she raised her hands to his eye hole in a parody of someone showing they were wearing handcuffs, he realised two things; Her wrists were sliced to ribbons and she had a razor blade clutched between two bony fingers.
It was at this point she threw her head back like a lunatic worshipping the moon and screamed.
He backed away from the door so quickly that he collided with the wardrobe behind him, and fell backwards to the floor space at the foot of his bed.
This can’t be happening, This can’t be real!?
He could feel hysteria beginning to rise in the form of tears that threatened to spill down his face.
No further sounds came from outside the door of room 454. Silence and the patter of rain descended.
The room was now taking on an almost neon blue tint as darkness fell in earnest. Dan sat up, climbed to his feet and pulled the iPhone from his pocket. It was only when he found himself chuckling quietly to himself, staring transfixed at the narrow rectangular hole that was the bathroom, into that phosphorescence, that he switched the device on and flicked the gleaming white LED into existence.
Shadows quickly chased into corners as he turned and illuminated different parts of his prison. The iPhone in his hand at head level. He could feel sanity slowly returning, the flames of madness doused by reality. He sat down on the bed for the first time, and cried.
They had found out about the sickness all too late, it hit them both harder than any traffic collision. Anna had thought that her asthma was worsening, spat pools of blood into their porcelain washbasin, didn’t think to mention it. The consultant told them to take a seat, he had some news to tell them. He tore their world apart in four little words, “…six months of life…”
“Get on with your life, but please do not forget me…” she had said searching his face with her eyes.
As he recalled this on the bed he raised his hands to his face and wept.
“How could I go on Anna? How could I?”
The LED light trembling on the framed print in front of him within his tired hand. He was so deep in his grief that he almost didn’t hear the beige telephone ringing again from the desk. Bleary eyed and on the verge of exhaustion he rose from where he sat, walked over to the desk and put the handset to his ear.
A familiar static hiss again, but Dan sensed movement within this, as the pop’s and crackles formed themselves into words.
Tears stung his eyes again and he almost dropped his handset when he realised that the person on the line was Anna.
“I’ve missed you so mu..” he said and dissolved into tears.
“Dan..how..could you….” Her words grew and faded in strength as if they were being carried along a radio signal in an area of low coverage.
“I love you so much Anna…..”
“...go to blue…light Dan….?”
For the last time Dan replaced the handset. He did it with care, placing it down gently in the cradle just as he had done with her arm onto the pillow on that final day. He stole a glance at the bathroom door.
Anna wants me to go in there, I must go in there, he thought.
Once again his attention returned to that place he had been avoiding. As he did the blue light flickered as if in acknowledgement. Dan did not know if he had the strength or resolve to walk into that light. His sanity was already at breaking point.
Dan checked his phone battery. One percent left. He unzipped the front button of his shoulder bag , directing the beam as he did, and found the only thing remotely weapon like in his possession- a small pair of scissors from his stationary box. Tucked amongst the pens and pencils, he doubted that he had even used them since he bought them.
With trepidation and fear, he approached the door to the bathroom, and pushed it open.
The stench punched him in the face as soon as crossed the threshold. This was sickly sweet putrification, the decomposition of meat and sinew. He was surprised that this rotten stench had not permeated through the open door and into the room beyond.
That horrible light was here too, all around him and coating the clean white tiles, the bath and washbasin in a film of spoiled cream. Dan found himself pocketing the still lit iPhone, his attention diverted.
Next to the porcelain lavatory bowl a small, dark puddle of maroon had formed and congealed. Within, small pink shapes writhed and pulsed. The same thick viscous liquid also coated a small yellow plastic carrier bag in the corner, the angles of which suggested items within. There was a flicker of recognition within Dan at this, but did not know why.
A droplet of straw coloured liquid fell to the floor from above sending the small, rice-like creatures into a frenzy. Dan looked up at the main effigy within this inner sanctum of filth.
A man hung from the bowing light fitting above him by a length of green electrical wire tied into a crude noose. His brown booted feet pointed downwards, and Dan noticed the rubber scuff-marks on the porcelain of the toilet behind him where he had bucked and kicked during his final moments.
The jeans were black, but did not disguise the staining around the crotch where the corpse had pissed himself.
Poor bastard, thought Dan,
Poor, poor bastard.
Over the waistline hung a buttoned up shirt, and at his arms were by his sides.
The hush within the room was broken suddenly and crudely by a low giggle, and Dan was not at all surprised that this was coming from his own parted lips. He had reached a junction where he welcomed madness, it was his only salvation.
His eyes followed the loop of the noose up to a head wrapped thickly in another plastic yellow bag, secured around the neck by the wire. The polythene handles dangled loose below the ligature.
“You look like a scarecrow!” exclaimed Dan, too loudly. Once again he descended into an uncontrollable fit of chuckles which turned into a coughing fit as the contaminated air filled his lungs. He stumbled forward in the small space and knocked the body which began to spin like a twisted marionette. There was a creak, followed by a low groan as the light fitting buckled and then gave way. A small cloud of screws and plaster dust cascaded the man to the floor where he lay on his back, his head propped against the shower cubicle.
Dan had stopped laughing and was staring into the corner where the body’s feet lay. The fall had disturbed the familiar yellow bag. It had fallen on to its side, spilling the contents into the pile of red, squirming filth. Letters, some in small pink envelopes, and some folded in half were now soaking up the bile and gore. The sight of them shocked Dan in to sobriety. He knew these items.
Dan knelt down on the contaminated tiles and removed a letter from inside the bag. Stapled to it was a polaroid of Anna, a self taken shot of her beautiful face with a headscarf wrapped around her head. A wink in her eye. It was cheeky, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. He closed his eyes and put the letter to his forehead, tears formed between his lashes and cascaded down his face. He was beginning to remember.
He placed the letter back into the bag with care and turned to the body. Using the scissors from his pocket he cut a slit into the yellow plastic of the bag that entombed a male head. Placing the scissors on the floor he pulled the two sides of the hole apart and down over a waxen face The plastic yielded easily revealing two bulging, clouded over eyes set in receded sockets. They were staring up above the shaving mirror at the last thing they ever saw before the end, the horrible flickering blue of the dying halogen bulb.
Dan reeled back and fell hard on his backside, he reversed into the sink unit with his legs kicking out in front of him. He stared at horrible tableau before him, his eyes wide, mouth agape and a soundless scream escaping from deep within his lungs. He was looking into a dead face that he had seen a million times before in the mirror – those angular cheekbones, the dark brown hair and the stubbled chin.
He now realised exactly what he had done the first time he had entered that bathroom, where the sadness and despair had led him, how his legs had taken him in there and never walked out again.
In that moment of perfect terror Anna’s voice, immersed in the static of a telephone line, a billion miles away implored a single word that now made perfect sense to him. ‘Why?’