Leroy Tyrell’s mood descended as the lift slowly carried him to the fourth floor. Something had been niggling him from the moment he exited his car that morning, the distinct feeling that something wasn’t right. His dad would have probably described it as negative mojo, but Leroy wasn’t as superstitious as the old man. Still- it persisted as he straightened his pale blue uniform and made the short walk across the lobby of the Renfield Hotel he felt…lost. Was that right? Yes, lost.
The front desk had been unoccupied, not unusual for six in the morning, but a shuffling noise from the back office told him that Sadie was on shift, likely sorting out the box of faulty key cards that had plagued them lately. It was unusual that no light shone from under the closed door, but Leroy didn’t pay it much attention- he had other things on his mind. His polished boots clicked briskly across the polished floor to the security lodge, which was more of a cubicle than a lodge really. Here he sat, basking in the green glow of the security monitors as he read his newspaper, discarded on the desk as always by Larry from the previous shift.
Today’s headline, in bold lettering below the red top, described how a missing child had been found dead amongst the heather and shrub of nearby moorland. He quickly turned the page, trying to erase the image of the white police tent against the patchwork of purple and green. He’d experienced his own loss not too far in the past which still left him feeling raw and things like this only served to make him feel worse.
He ran a finger and thumb down his chin as he read the sports section. When was the last time he shaved? He couldn’t remember, but his face felt thin and gaunt. He supposed that this shouldn’t be a surprise- he hadn’t been eating very well lately. Just hadn’t felt like it. It was hard to eat when everything was so dark.
The Walkie Talkie that was clipped to his belt squawked into life with a blast of static and he flinched.
“Uhh, Leroy we have a bit of a situation up on the fourth floor. Over.”
He raised the radio to his lips, frowning.
“Situation, Sadie? Over.”
“Yeah. One of the rooms up there is listed as unoccupied but one of the guests in 456 says that they can hear noises coming from inside. Could you please pop up and check? Over.”
“Sure. Probably another one of those emo bastards on the wind up again. Over.”
“I hear that. Over and out.”
Leroy sighed and reluctantly rose from his chair with a resigned creak. He checked that his night stick was still attached to his hip and then re-clipped the radio. Since they had found the poor guy that had ended his own life in 454 and it had made the local news they had all sorts of crazies trying to book themselves into that room. Most of them cited the bullshit rule that a person has the right to take any suite providing it was unoccupied, and they had Stephen King to thank for that one. Still, the management refused to let the room out to anyone who appeared to have any other motive than a good night’s sleep.
This hadn’t stopped them renting out rooms on the same floor to the oddballs, though, and this was what was going through Leroy’s mind as the lift pinged and the doors stiffly opened onto the fourth-floor corridor.
Leroy squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dull strip lights. The hallway that led off into the distance was bathed in a milky blue. He raised the radio to his lips, “Sadie, could you please get maintenance to pop up to the fourth when they have the chance? It looks like the strip lights up here are on their way out.”
The speaker hissed and crackled in response, but no reply was forthcoming. She was probably in the back office again, he thought. No big deal, he’d raise it in person when he returned. He exited the cart and then stopped, the doors grated shut behind him and the lift hummed as it began its descent. The carpet on which he stood felt unusually sticky underfoot. He lifted his heel, feeling resistance and then placed it down again. How strange. It was like someone had spilt a considerable quantity of fizzy soda here and then left it to dry. He would have to report this too, of course.
The pattern on the thick pile beneath him was designed to conceal stains. It was a looping motif of blues and reds that curled and curved over one another like the perpetually shifting waves of an ocean, broken only by pale edges that looked a little like foam. It was the same carpet on every floor of this damn hotel, but in this light, it somehow appeared…different.
He squatted, leaning on one knee as he looked a little closer. It reminded him a little of those magic eye books that he had once bought back in the nineties when optical illusions were all the rage. The blues seemed three dimensional somehow, they shifted and rolled in waves of darkness. It was like he was stood on water, and as he looked up the floor appeared to bobble and undulate. Down between his legs, the pattern fell and then lifted, forming into what looked like a face, mouth gaping below wide eyes, and it was slowly rising from the murky depths to meet him.
Leroy closed his lids tightly and raised his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He had been through a very difficult period of time in his life, and the stress was getting to him. That was all- it was to be expected in the circumstances surely? When he looked down again the floor had stopped moving, the carpet was as it always had been- the tackiness was still there, though. The light above him whined and flickered. Leroy rose and progressed towards his intended destination, struggling to focus in the unnatural luminescence.
“Thank Goodness you are here, sir!” A voice suddenly exclaimed. A shadow emerged from the space in front of him, and into his field of vision.
“Can I help you?” Leroy asked, inhaling deeply to try and stabilise his stomach. He didn’t feel right at all. In another place and time, he might have considered the possibility of an onset of food poisoning.
“Indeed you can,” the man said. He was wearing a tuxedo, and this hair was greased neatly across his head. Leroy could smell Brylcream but there was also another smell, something that reminded him of the kitchen bin back home, and the pile of leaves disintegrating atop the compost heap.
“There’s a terrible mess in my room,” the man continued, the pencil moustache atop his lip trembled and twitched as he spoke, almost like it had a life of its own. “Admittedly it’s my own fault, but I’ll kindly reimburse the hotel.” He briskly turned off to the left like a soldier on parade and through an open door. More of the blue light spilt out into the corridor.
Leroy followed shakily, feeling like he’d inhaled a particularly shitty toke of bad pot. He crossed the threshold where the man waited with one arm out towards the bed, like a smartly dressed steward guiding a filmgoer to their seat.
Leroy’s eyes widened. He turned and vomited.
The centre of the bed was a writhing red mess- like the reject chute of an abattoir. Amongst the bunched and creased sheets tendrils of pinky-grey intestines squirmed and slithered around bloated organs. It took a moment for him to realise that the motion was caused by the hundreds of maggots that pulsed in and out of the carnage.
A woman’s head, eyes rolled to the ceiling rested on the plumped pillow as if it belonged there. Her mouth was open and the purple fleshy slug of her tongue protruded over her grey teeth. A lace bonnet sat atop her head. Within the mismatch of limbs and bones Leroy spotted a tiny arm and leg, starved of oxygen and almost as blue as the filthy light that they bathed in. It was an unborn child.
Leroy vomited again and then remembering his purpose, pulled out his nightstick. He spun to face the suited gentleman.
He was gone.
The room was gone.
He was outside the lift doors again, stood in a puddle of his own bile.
That’s why it was so tacky, Leroy thought, struggling to understand what had just happened. The door that he thought he had just entered was closed and a push confirmed it was indeed locked.
He replaced the nightstick and raised the radio to his lips once more. “Sadie? You there? Over.”
He received only a hiss of static in response.
“Sadie. If you can hear me I’ll be back down in a few minutes. We need a Cleaner on the fourth floor. I repeat. A cleaner on the fourth floor. Over.”
He listened to the white noise for a few moments before speaking again. “Tell Helen and Gemma that I love them. Over and out.”
Why did I just say that?
It was impossible to tell Helen and Gemma anything. He knew that better than anyone, though he still tried sometimes as he tossed and turned in bed at night, talking to the darkness of his empty bedroom. He stood as time stretched out before him, staring off into the middle distance. He could see a pair of lips that were once pink and full, now purple where the poison had done its work. He blamed himself. He immediately tried to focus on something else, the task in hand and wiped the tears from his eyes.
His heavy breathing caught in his throat as a scream sounded from down the corridor, somewhere beyond his line of vision. A cold drop of sweat inched down his spine, and his flesh crawled. Shaking the fever-like symptoms from his bones he ran through the eerie glow towards room 454, counting the door numbers as he passed as a way of retaining his grip on reality.
Reaching his destination, he stopped to catch his breath. He stood for a second with his hands on his hips, wondering how he had lost fitness so quickly. It was only last year that he had run 10k in thirty-five minutes, now he was struggling with thirty-five yards. He could no longer see the lift doors back where he had come from, only a smothering swirl of distorting blue fog. It was as if the other end of the corridor had ceased to exist.
The door of 454 was unremarkable- faux walnut with the numbers in shiny polished brass and a little peephole beneath. He put his ear to the surface. It was remarkably cold as if someone had left the air conditioning blasting in the room, which could have quite easily been the case. Aside from the seashell effect and the claustrophobic thud of his own heart beating he could hear nothing but a pregnant silence.
Across the corridor, the door opened and a young woman stepped out into the light. She wore leather boots and a blue denim skirt, a Sex Pistols T-shirt stretched across the small rounds of her chest ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ the famous logo proclaimed.
“Are you security?” she asked.
“Yes miss,” Leroy replied, “what seems to be the trouble?”
“I heard screaming coming from there,” she explained, nodding towards 454. A lock of her dark hair fell into her grey eyes and she swept it away with her hand. “I came to The Renfield to get away from my problems, not to encounter them. Got enough shit going on as it is.”
As if in response, a high pitched screech whistled like steam from an agitated kettle from somewhere within 454, rising with the hairs on the back of Leroy’s neck. There was a strange resonance to it, an echo that reverberated around the thin walls within. It sounded simultaneously very close, and also like it was traversing a considerable distance. He knocked on the door so hard that it warmed his cold knuckles. “Security- open up.” No response, silence had descended once again on the corridor.
He reached in the back pocket of his trousers.
“What you doing?” the girl asked.
“Double checking something.” He replied, putting the mobile phone to his ear. The signal was incredibly weak and popped and crackled but after a couple of rings, Sadie answered. “Renfield Reception how can I help you?”
“Sadie, it’s Leroy here.”
“Hello? Hello? Is that you Leroy? Signals not too good.”
“Tell me about it, can you just confirm that 454 is currently unoccupied?”
“Sure hang on.”
“Room 454 hasn’t been occupied for over a year now.”
He hadn’t finished speaking when the phone beeped three times to indicate loss of signal. He checked the screen and then replaced it in his rear pocket. When he turned back to the girl she was no longer there, but the sight of the closed door made Leroy’s temples throb.
He saw a blade glide across delicate, pale skin like an ice skater on the rink, leaving a thin, red trail behind. The trail inevitably darkened and bled out, spilling out into clear water where it transformed into beautiful candy cotton bursts of rouge. A pulse tick-tocked in that wrist, the same pulse that beat a rhythm in her neck, and that is where the blade was heading now, with serene purpose.
Suddenly the screech rose from the door behind him again, and his blood turned to ice. Pocketing the phone, he pulled out the master key and swiped through the slot on the wall. With a low click the lock released and the door creaked open.
It was dark inside, and very cold. The curtains had been closed and Leroy had to utilise his small pocket torch in one hand and ready the nightstick with the other before he entered. The LED beam cut a white path through the darkness and he could see that the room was in complete disarray. A bedside table had been smashed against the inside of the door and lay splintered across the carpet, the circle of light found a print of three trees on a riverbank that had been decimated and was hanging from one hinge, a pale mark behind it on the wall indicating where it had once been.
Leroy tentatively stepped further into the room, past the wardrobe on his right and the bathroom to his left. He could see the bed now, and for a moment he thought that an adult and a child lay side by side, perfectly still on top of the sheets. “Helen? Gemma?” he asked, his heart sinking. As he squinted the two figures faded from view and became the lumps and bumps of a duvet, which was half hanging off the bed.
I need to get a grip, he thought. The feeling of being on some sort of drug induced hallucination still persisted. Everything looked as if it was a clever piece of three-dimensional graffiti and if he turned his head a certain way he would almost certainly find that it was all just a picture- as real as those three trees behind the smashed glass. Except it didn’t. The torchlight penetrated into the shadows above the headboard and found weird shapes. Rusty brown coloured handprints covered the entire wall, some spattered around the edges, smeared in the same way that a Michelin star chef would spread a raspberry sauce across a plate. Leroy tried to swallow, but his mouth felt like it was fill of cotton wool.
A lump caught in Leroy’s throat, and he spun to face the bathroom door, which was now swinging outwards. A squeak echoed from inside the black void, and he thought, with some relief that it might just be a mouse. Rodents were not unknown in old buildings like this, he had only called Rent-a-Kill a few weeks before because the chef had found some droppings near the walk-in fridge, but no. This wasn’t the cry of an animal, it was the resistance of metal against metal.
Plumes of vapour poured from the void as the shower hissed into life, lit only by the torch beam and the weak light from the corridor beyond. Leroy through that it looked like smoke, poisonous smoke that filled young lungs with carbon monoxide as they slept. Except the policeman in the back of the ambulance told him that carbon monoxide was invisible, and that is why it was so hard to detect. The same round faced cop that told him that he was very lucky to still be alive.
Something shifted in the steam, a movement as subtle as a light breeze except the shape that it formed was recognisable and unnatural. This really was like a magic eye puzzle now as his eyes took in the curls and loops that the plumes were taking on. A man.
Leroy’s eyes widened with horror, and his mouth opened to scream soundlessly as the semi-transparent shape floated out of the darkness. A fat, shapeless head was cocked to the side at an unnatural angle, hands lying limply by its sides as it moved a foot above the ground, toes pointed downwards to the splinters on the carpet.
“Let me out,” it hissed at him in a voice that sounded weak and distorted. A scream then erupted, but not from Leroy’s parted lips, it came from within the billowing fog that was now reaching out two ethereal arms and floating towards him.
Leroy whipped his nightstick at his assailant, but it found nothing but the resistance of air. The two hands closed on his neck, hot and damp, condensation dripping down his chest and into his shirt. The grip began to tighten and tighten until he couldn’t breathe.
Is this is what it was like for them? He thought, looking up at the ceiling, at the misty noose that extended upwards above the creatures head like a small tornado, is this is what it is like to slowly suffocate to death? The image of his ten year old daughter flashed into his mind. It was the photograph that they had kept on the wall behind the television, pride of place. His baby-girl sat side-on in her new school uniform, royal blue, with that beautiful dark skin she had inherited from her father, eyes wide and alert, mouth raised in a cheeky smile. No more.
He could hear his wife’s voice from within as his vision started to fade out red around the edges. “Fight it, Leroy, fight it. It was not your fault! We didn’t have a chance, but you do! You do!” With his last ounce of strength, he dropped the torch and pointed a shaky finger to the corridor. “There…” he said weakly “…light…” The shape stopped and turned. Upon seeing the open door it released the vice-like grip on Leroy’s throat. As his back thumped against the thin carpet Leroy could see the steam roll towards the open doorway, as if caught in a crosswind and within a second it was gone.
He started up at the static ceiling fan, his windpipe throbbing and the rise and fall of his chest slowing. “Must fight it, must…” he thought, weakly. Then his world faded to nothing.
He woke to the purr of the engine, with his chin resting against his chest. His eyes were streaming and he couldn’t tell if he had been crying, or if it was the thick choking smoke that engulfed the entire space where he sat. Groggily he turned to face the passenger side door and saw the source of the toxicity. Surreally, it looked like a green snake, regurgitating poisonous clouds of grey cotton candy- but he came to realise that it was a hosepipe.
What the hell am I doing?
He unbuckled the seatbelt, gripped the door handle with as much strength as his weak hands could muster and spilt out onto the floor of the Renfield Hotel’s underground carpark, coughing and spluttering on his hands and knees. He was still in his uniform which was slick with bile and yesterday’s dinner. He felt like he was suffering from the world’s heaviest hangover but had to get outside, get some fresh air and clear his head.
Like a baby deer on ice, he shakily rose to his feet and then leaning against the brick wall he slowly made his way around to the exit ramp, pausing every few steps to breathe. Behind him the car idled malevolently, driver’s door still open and spitting out plumes of lethal smoke.
He ambled past the yellow and black striped barrier to the kerb outside and allowed himself to stumble forward and collapse on the lawn. Rolling onto his back he looked up the grey stonework of the hotel and into an azure sky where the sun shone like a beautifully bright penny. He breathed deep, his lungs hungrily consuming the fresh afternoon air, then picked up his radio and sent out an emergency callout to reception.
“I’m out back Sadie,” he said, his voice hoarse and gravelly, “Please send an ambulance. I need help…” His eyes fell to one of the windows on the fourth floor, and he could see a man with dark brown hair waving down at him from within. At the man’s side, a pale woman in a headscarf linked his arm- gazing into the face of her companion with clear admiration. Inexplicably and without thought Leroy reciprocated the wave, dropping the hissing radio to his side. There was something familiar about them, the man in particular, but before Leroy could decide exactly what, he was gone.
Leroy Tyrell cast his mind back to the moment when his feet led him to his car, garden hose coiled tightly in fist. Next to him on the passenger side seat, his wallet had laid open with the picture of his recently deceased wife and daughter. The images had been taken by him, only weeks before the faulty boiler had turned his entire life on its head. He saw those beautiful smiling faces, and his heart ached so deeply, an all too familiar emotion that shook him harder than anything the Richter scale could record.
The distant wail of sirens found him, interrupting the birdsong and despite himself, his lips formed into a bittersweet smile.
Leroy Tyrell figured that his world was in pieces- that much hadn’t changed, but at least he was still here to pick them up.
One piece at a time.
About the author: Gary Buller is an author from Manchester England where he lives with his long suffering partner Lisa, his daughter Holly and dog Chico. He grew up in the Peak District where the hauntingly beautiful landscapes inspired him to write. He is a huge fan of all things macabre and loves a tale with a twist.