“In Vino Veritas” by Dorian Xanyn

An unsettling sensation overtakes Delphine in the early hours of the morning as she works the fourteenth floor of the Montleone Hotel. She stops, dirty platter in hand, staring down the hall. Eyes fixed on the off-white wall in the distance. The call of children laughing, faint but noticeable to a tuned ear. Matilda, her coworker, sweeps the large crumbs and chicken bones from the doorway of fourteen twenty-two, readying the room to vacuum. Matilda grabs the young girl by the arm trying to wake her. Delphine’s form, tense, to Matilda her bicep feels like gripping a treated piece of hickory. This light frail brunet now an immovable statue of flesh, with a tear creeping down her cheek. Again, Matilda tugs at Delphine’s arm in an attempt to wake her from her trance.

“Del? Del! What, ya gone simple again? Del!” she snaps in the young girls face.

A smile. The girl looks into the pail worn eyes of Matilda and flutters her lids, dry eyed. And still she smiles.

“Sorry, I got lost in my head,” she puts the platter on the cart and pushes forward.

“What’s with you?” Delphine laughs at the question, “are you ok?”

“Yeah, just lost in my head,” her thumb beads past her fingertips repeatedly as if she were counting invisible rosaries.

“Tired?”

“Very,” she quickly looks behind her, then at Matilda but says nothing.

Delphine stops near the storage closet to get the vacuum, the creeping sound of the wheels carry-on, she looks behind her and the cart is gone. She turns to look down the hall. Matilda walking ahead with the cart. She turns down the next corridor leaving only her shadow to grace the wall, it stands still and the wheels keep creaking. The still shadow becomes Delphine’s new focus. The shadows head abruptly jolts towards her direction. Del turns back into to closet. The creaking grows louder, she falls back against the wall, gripping the closest towel, and pressing it to her breast. The shadow grows over the open door. The light flickers. She cowers. Her heart is racing. The door slams shut, and the light goes out. The clamoring of glass and plastic, the gurgling of whatever cleaning solutions pouring out and the splattering of it on the floor. She feels it, something, wrapping around her neck, it hurts. The light comes back. The room in disarray, chemicals spilled over the floor. Fumes visibly dancing off the linoleum as the ammonia evaporates making it impossible to breathe. She rushes out, slamming the door against the stopper.

The shadow extends its grasp along the wall, a black mass in the shape of a birds’ claw lifts itself out of the thick inky shade. Delphine runs down the hall, the nearest exit sign blinks and from the door a voice, soft and sweet, calls to her. She hesitates, jotting her head back and forth. The mass blotting out all light in the hallway barrels towards her talon over talon. The panic overtakes her, she opens the door. The scurrying of laughing children running downwards is heard. She looks down over the railing, the floors dissolves in darkness and the giggling stops. A screech rises from the bottom up, louder and pained. She heads towards the light, running up. The fifteenth floor locked and the dark sea rises, bubbling and screaming. She continues upward, the roof. The sun has yet to rise over the horizon casting her in a cool blue light. At the base-grate of the hotels sign, the red lights shimmer, and for a moment she considers going back. Panting and coated in panic she screams. A banging emerges from the door behind her and she looks for safety. Crouched, weaving between fans and vents, the pounding speeds up. She crawls into a cavern, a cold wet steel cave. And the pounding follows.

***

September twenty-ninth Jean, the night auditor, twiddles his thumbs at the front desk letting the hours pass in silence. Three hours since he counted the drawer, two since the last reservation or request from a guest. He taps the monitor hoping the time would change from four to five. He looks through his emails: old cancellations, memos, Criollo menu changes, scheduling swaps. He goes back further, irrelevant material. Six months back he rereads Matilda’s resignation:

Dear all,

It has been weeks since the disappearance of our friend Delphine Mancuseux. I know this situation has affected you all but as the last to have seen her, and the only one who had actually called her ‘friend,’ I cannot continue. Being interrogated, being accused! My job has become far more difficult. Having to repeatedly defend myself and hear people talk about Del as if she’s some folktale, another footnote in the hotels haunted history eats at me. I thank you, those of you who were kind, those that were a shoulder for me. I thank you for the times we had and the opportunities but since Delphine I don’t feel comfortable or safe working here.

Sincerely,

Matilda Espoza

He reads it a couple of times. Thinking about Delphine, she was an early bird, always arriving at five. Jean exits out and walks to the employee suite behind his desk to grab a glass of water. He sits, pulls out his phone and plays some music, Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks. He zones out to the voice of Ray Davies and sips his water. Just as he was about to rest his feet on a nearby box of powdered coffee creamer’s he hears a grating. At first, he shakes his phone, pressing it to his ear, realizing the noise is not coming from his speaker, he pauses the music and still hears what sounds like the hum of a small motor.

Jean steps out from the employee’s suite, cup of water in hand, he walks down the steps to the main entrance thinking a rather loud and slow car might be passing by, but the streets lay empty and the mechanical hum continues. He steps up, eyes closed, and listens for it. Focusing on the noise. A chill pass’ through him, tugging at his arm, the cup falls from his raised hand shattering. He follows the force. Up another small flight of stairs to the carousal lounge, and the noise grows louder. The doors, which last he saw shut and locked, were now open, and at the maw of the lounge he is free from the hum. The seats vacant. The soulless room hot and humid. He inspects the area. A warm serenity in the dark quiet allows him to investigate with ease. ‘Perhaps when I went to the restroom one of the night stewards crept in to pick up something they forgot,’ comforting himself in that thought, he still inspects. A whisper from behind. He jolts back turning on his phones light to watch the doors of the lounge close. He runs to them. Locked in. He presses his body against the glass hoping it would give way. As the fibers in the wooden door creek he refrains, not wanting to pay for damages. The hum returns, louder this time, he turns to the bar. The carousel begins to spin, and the whisper behind him reemerges, closer than before. It laughs at him.

            “Maurice!” he shouts at open air, “Maurice, stop this,” holding on to that bit of urban legend that at this point seems so real, “Maurice!” he’s becoming a cross parent to the phantom child.

            Jean looks back at the bar to see it gaining speed, the wood carved harlequins laughing ferociously at his panic. Dripping with sweat and frozen, the bar continues to speed. The bottles jingling, the hanging glasses swaying outward, and he fears one will fly off and swipe him. The lights begin to glow, pail and dim at first then brighter and iridescent. The white light of the bulbs now an off yellow deepening into a fiery red. Laughter, real and true laughter emerging from all the wood carvings, shaking the entire room. The eyes of the vaudevillian and linear deco paintings bend and turn to look at him, faces contort to disgusting and distorted grins. Teeth, all their teeth, shown and sharp. The lights shimmer. The room engulfed in that shaky rouge that continues to intensify like the infernal flames. The bulbs simmer as decades of grease and fruit fly corpses burn off, the room heats up and the lights can take no more. The filaments in every bulbs fry at once and the glass shatters. Shards fly throughout the room slicing Jeans left cheek. A grey cloud of powdered glass, Argon, and Tungsten frozen in the air, slowly drifting out only to rapidly bounce back and reconstitute, flies and all. He runs to the door. Pounding and screaming. And as he pulls the handle the door opens freely.

            The scared auditor rushes back to his position hearing the whispers fade behind him as the ringing of his phone grows. He returns behind his desk, tense and sluggish, hand raised over the receiver as it continues to ring out. He swallows and quickly picks up the phone.

            “Hello, Hotel Montleon,”

            “I’ve been ringing for the past twenty ought minutes, is this any way to run a hotel!” an angered guest on the other line breathes some relief into the scared man.

            “My sincerest apologies sir, how may I be of assistance?”

            “You can get my God damn cable workin’,”

            “I’ll get someone on that right-away, which room are you located in?”

            “Fourteen twenty-two,”

            “Alright, I will have maintenance be right with you and again I apologize for any inconvenience,”

            “Just get my damn TV workin’,” the disgruntled guest slams the phone.

            “Ass-hat,” Jean grumbles, the event seemingly blocked outright and wondering if the man had really been on the phone for twenty minute, ‘I wasn’t gone that long,’ he scratches his face feeling the cuts, immediately he jerks his hand back to see blood on his finger tips and is thrown back into the room with the laughing carousel. He slams his head on the desk, wrapping his arms on top for security and bellows out a loud sob before snapping back to the job at hand. He dials Jésus, the night maintenance worker, gives him the room number to call and hopes for the best. He darkens his computer screen to see his cuts; two fine lacerations over his cheek bone. Jean returns to checking his emails and obsessing over the time. He sits for about fifteen minutes before remembering his broken glass at the entrance and cleans up the mess. This prompts a cleaning spree of the main lobby; he vacuums the stair well, wipes the face of the grandfather clock, sanitizes the front desk and reorganizes the magazines. The phone rings, he answers. Jésus on the other line.

            “Sir, are you sure you had the right room?”

            “Yeah, fourteen twenty-two,” he looks at his note pad with the number and checks the call log, all confirming the room number, “did he not pick-up?”

            “Right,”

            “The jerk probably fell asleep,”

            “I called twice,”

            “Deep sleep,”

            “I also went to the room and there was no man there,”

            “What? The room was empty?”

“No-no, there was a lady, I think I woke her up, she said it was jus’ her and her tv was working fine. I thought maybe you said the wrong room?”

            “I didn’t though, fourteen twenty-two,” he bangs his fist on the desk.

            “Aye, fourteen twenty-two. And no man there. I think you might have been pranked or something,”

            “Pranked?”

            “You know kids and their phones, they can do jus’ about e’erything these days, anyway I’m sorry,”

            “No need to be, thank you Jésus,”

            At six the maids came in. The two new girls Aimee and Venessa, the replacements for Delphine and Matilda, approached looking for direction. Aimee looked at Jean with concern, she lightly touches his face.

            “What happened here?”

            “You know when you order and Irish car bomb and the bartender use to be in the IRA, that old story,”

            “Oh yeah, a tale as old as time,” she flirts back, “so where we at?”

            “uh…” he looks at the schedule, “eleven up,” the girls nod and go on their way.

            Jean waits another twenty for Sandra, his relief, to arrive. She’s looks like she’s in a hurry, hair, though nice, is not as prim as usual. She apologizes for being late, even though she’s not, breathing heavily the entire time. He gives her the room counts. She logs in, unlocks the drawer, and checks her emails.

            “All good,” it takes her a moment to work up the courage, “how did you do that?” pointing at her own cheek.

            “Bug bite,”

            “Big scratch mark?”

            “You didn’t see the bug,”

            He leaves the hotel, the sun showing behind him, his eyes feeling dry and gritty, with each blink imaginary micro granules roll between his eyes and their lids. He shivers intensely veering slightly over the line. Shaking his head to stay awake he thinks to the last time he felt this exhausted after a shift. The radio, Jean takes solace in the radio to keep him up. It’s fuzzy and interfered, the static dominates what would be blue, rock and jazz stations. He adjusts his rearview to see if his antenna is still there, it is. He blindly hits buttons to see if he was accidently on AM, searches though channels, to only hear static. He shuts off the radio and hums an old Irish drinking song to keep himself from crashing.

            The sun grows higher and the air denser, Jean does reach his apartment safely. Immediately as he parks, he loosens his tie and top button. Kids waiting for the school bus by the side of the road with their parents’ wave to him as he gets out, though tired and heavy, and with shadows that consume his eyes he politely smiles and does the same before limping towards the stoop of his building. His breathing becomes labored and muscles tense. He can barely pull himself in to his apartment. As soon as the door is closed and he’s hit with the air conditioning he collapses onto the floor, pissing himself, and blacks out.

            Four hours later he is woken by a burning sensation on his cheek and a blunt pain in his mouth. He crawls to the bathroom in his soaked pants, sits on the toilet and undresses. His jaw feels as if it’s held shut with a spring cable, he stands looking in the mirror at the cuts, no swelling or redness but he washes it anyway. Now for his jaw he struggles to open, all the tension carried by his right premolars; the sound of elastic flesh pealing between them tears through his head. He tastes blood and the blunt pain is replaced with a sharp sting. Part of the tip of his tongue was missing; flattened and ground between his teeth. He bangs on the sink screaming. Grabbing at the toilet paper he wads-up a ball to stop the bleeding. He wipes the tears from his eyes and breathes out the pain.

            Once the bleeding stopped Jean started to shower. He keeps his mouth closed. The toilet tank began to rush, filling with water. Popping his head out the curtains looking around. It continues to fill. He turns off the shower, looks at the floor to make sure there are no puddles to slip on and gets out. He flushes the toilet to fix it. The rushing persist for a moment longer then stops. He shrugs it off, dries and dresses casually. Though not hungry he convinces himself to eat something, with little in the refrigerator and cabinets he pours a bowl of dry cereal and chews, favoring his left side. Occasionally the iron taste comes through the sugary flakes, but he ignores it and continues forcing spoonful after spoonful down his gullet. Pressure in his neck builds. At the bottom of the bowl he finds nausea and rushes back into the bathroom. On his knees before the toilet he lifts the seat. More pressure. A spasm in his diaphragm, he chokes on the cold air, desperately trying to inhale, another spasm forcing his body to jump forward. He gets a breath down, painfully, the salt from his tears burning his eyes. Another spasm, the muscles constrict around his Adams apple, tugging it down his throat. The trickling of loose drops bound to his lashes rolling down to his nose. He jumps forward, more forcibly this time with a deluge of bile, black and thick, spewing into the bowl. Jean, panting and squeezing the toilet, looks at the mess and thinks blood from his tongue. He rests his head on the rim and blacks out.

            He wakes lying on the floor between his toilet and sink feeling better, his head a little light but his stomach has settled, and relieved of all pain. Lifting himself up he looks in the bowl to see no signs of the mess. He looks at himself in the mirror and sticks out his tongue to see the wet budded flesh intact with a healthy pink glow, showing no sign of scab nor scar. Still with his tongue out he hooks and pulls his cheeks with his fingers showing teeth, “he-he” Jean clucks, the sound sloppily echoed in his hollowed cheeks. He quickly sides his fingers out and lets the sides of his mouth slap back to their normal form. He looks to the wall mounted clock outside his bathroom, nine forty, he slept the day away. He wets his hair, combs it, gets clothes and dresses readying for work.

            The phone rings, Jean lost time, it’s three AM and he’s already at his desk and settled. His computer logged in, note pad with line after line of dictation. He had been working yet he has just arrived. Again, the phone rings, he answers, terrified, cradling the receiver.

            “Hello,” as timid as possible, forgetting the company’s hospitality greeting.

            “How many times do I have to call,” Jean looks down at the caller ID, it’s room fourteen twenty-two, “All I want is my shows! How hard is your job? Huh? Get up here and do you God damn job,”

            “Sir, wha-“

            “Fourteen twenty-two, fourteen twenty-two, get it fixed,” he slams the phone.

            Jean looks up room fourteen twenty-two: Quilla-June Smith, twenty-seven, Oregon license, no pets, single key card, five-day occupancy. ‘She could have invited someone with her,’ he thinks. He dials up Jésus.

            “Sir?”

            “Yeah Jésus I need-“

            “I’m not bothering that lady again,”

            “Jésus, come-on I just got another call from her boyfriend,”

            “There is no boyfriend; not last night, not at midnight, not twenty minutes ago. She’s alone there,” Jeans eyes grew, what had he done during his lost time?

            “Are you sure you had the right room?”

            “Fourteen twenty-two, young lady Quiya-Yune. Very nice but she wants us to stop bothering her,”

            “Ok,” he sighs thinking.

            “Sir, are you still there?”

            “Yeah, yeah. I have an idea, come to the lobby,”

            “Why?”

            “You’re going to stand at my desk. I think some wires are getting crossed, I’m going to go up to the room, ask to use her phone, and call. And when I get back, tell me what number showed on the phone,”

            “Aye,”

            Jean hangs up and waits for Jésus to come down. As he looks around, he hears something. A squeaking, something rubbing on glass. He walks down the lobby to the main door, at the base he sees the shattered cup he dropped the night before. The glass door fogged over. He puts his hand on the pane and feels the strained vibrations of a squeegee or damp cloth moving and skipping across. He takes a step back and a clear streak cuts across the clouded door. He sees the slow-moving street and from under the clean stripe a small handprint emerges. Jean takes another step, the shattered glass no longer on the floor, he looks back at the door, a clean swiping mass starting in the middle and working down. He watches in horrific amazement as the clouded glass is cleared.

            “Sir?”

            “Jesus!” he screams, flailing his limbs as he turns around, “Jésus,” he repeats, softer, actually addressing his coworker.

            “You weren’t at your desk,” he looks over his shoulder pointing.

            “Yeah, I thought I heard something,” he claps his hands and smiles, “let’s get to it then,” he hops up the few stairs and shows Jésus the desk, “just write down whatever number comes up,”

            “Ok, what if someone else calls”

            “Trust me, no one will. And if so, just write it down and I’ll deal with it,” Jean straightens his tie “thank you,” and walks to the elevator.

            He presses the fourteenth floor. The doors close, the car shakes as the cords tighten. Jean feels uneasy and backs into a corner, the car goes black. The sound of something shifting around, some creature dancing around in the darkness, the shaking intensifies. He feels it, whatever it is, jumping and twirling about. Jean slides down onto the floor as its coarse tentacle slither up and over his shoulder and tighten around his neck. Too frightened to scream or move he lets it happen. The lights return and nothing. He’s alone crouched in the corner. He rubs his neck, then his face; blood, his cheek reopened. Standing, he coughs to loosen up his throat. Something wriggles in the back of his neck, he coughs again, it crawls onto his tongue. He spits what looks like a polished oak scarab. He drops it, steps on it, and spits repeatedly until his mouth is dry.

The elevator arrives at the floor. And he stands cautiously makes his way onto the floor. As he gets between the doors they begin to close on him, pressing his shoulders. He jumps out of the way to watch them spring open right before closing. He checks the signs to ensure that he is indeed on the fourteenth floor. He turns left and walks slowly down the hall looking for room fourteen twenty-two.

            He comes to the fourteen twenties when he sees a slim, dark-haired, pail girl standing at the end of the hall naked and wet. Droplets of water falling rapidly off the vines of hair that cover her face. A pool forming around her feet.

            “Hey,” he yells, “Hey! Have some decency,” he walks up to her, “the pool is closed at this hour,” she does not respond, “get to your room,” she doesn’t move.

            As he goes to grab her hand, she grabs his wrist. Her grip is tight and cold. She turns towards him and through the clumps of water matted hair he sees her, Delphine. Her eyes pail and glazed over, nostrils crusted in blood and mouth brittle and torn.

            “Del,” he calls to her and she sinks into to floor pulling him down, his head bouncing off the carpeted floor. He scurries back, falling over himself and still moving, crab walking, away as fast as he can. By the time his elbows are about to give he stops, bats his head back and forth, looking up at the doors and notices he sits before room fourteen twenty-two. Standing, he wipes off the scuff and carpet strands. He knocks.

            “What the hell is wrong with you,” he hears the half-asleep woman bellow and she walks to the door, “I thought,” she opens the door, “I told you to stop bothering me,”

            “You did, my associate has informed me, but the front desk is still receiving calls from this room,” he motions to her, “mind if I check the phone system, make sure our wires aren’t crossed?”

            “If it will let you guy let me sleep,” she turns away letting Jean in and faceplants on the bed, Jean turns on the light and enters. He pulls the closest chair to the phone.

            “I’m really sorry about all this miss,”

            “You’re sorry, I’m sorry. Shove it! We’re all just sacks of apathy,” he laughs a little putting the receiver to his ear and dials. The phone rings twice.

            “Hello Hotel Montleon,” in what sounds like Jeans voice.

            “Hello, Jésus?” he responds concerned, “hello…”

            “Hello Hotel Montleon,” Again in his voice.

            “Hey, can you read off the number on the caller ID?”

            “Hello,”

            “Can you hear me?” he asks mildly frustrated.

            “Phone sucks, water sucks, management sucks, maintenance sucks, I thought this was a good hotel?” Quilla murmurs.

            “Hello?” Jésus answers.

            “Yes, can you hear me? What number is on the caller ID”

            “Fourteen twenty-two,”

            “Huh,”

            “Boss, it may not be my place but if you get another call from that guy just ignore it,”

            “Yeah, I think you’re right,” he hangs up, “sorry about that ma’am, it looks like we got that all sorted out, we won’t be bothering you again,”

            “Good, can you grab the light on your way out? Thanks,” he does.

            Jean returns to the lobby. The dead silence of his post. Jésus appears to have left the desk. He moves to the back, grabs a glass of water and sits waiting for the sun. Laughter stirs him awake, mid-conversation with Aimee and he looks at the monitor. It reads six fifteen.

            “I’m sorry what were we talking about?”

            “Wise guy, huh?” she giggles, lightly batting his wrist.

            Sandra marches in, looking less kempt than the day before; no make-up, her hair less made-up, even greasy, dark rings under her eyes. She’s holding her purse tightly to her breast as she walks, looking at her sides.

            “Are you alright?” Jean asks.

            “No worse than you,” she aggressively scratches her jaw.

            “Sandra let me ask you some-“

            “I’m not on anything,” she bites.

            “Ok,” he waves her to ease; Aimee feeling uncomfortable looks back and forth at the two of them and languidly backs away from the situation.

            “I’m sorry, I haven’t been sleeping right,” Sandra presses her palm to her forehead

            “Know what you mean,” she leans in.

            “I don’t want to sound crazy,” she whispers, “have you been having nightmares too?”

            “Ya-yeah, I guess,” he looks away.

            “No, no you haven’t,” she smiles shaking her head ‘No’.

            “What? Of cou-“

            “You haven’t because they’re not nightmares,” she laughs, he stands.

            “Of course they are,”

            “I thought I’ve been going crazy,” she looks deeply at him, eyes wide and obsessive, proof to her, vindication that she is not alone, “you’ve seen the stuff too? Haven’t you? The bugs and the phones. It’s here, this place. Something clings on and won’t let you go,” he gathers his things, noticing the wooden beetle crouched on his notebook, it flicks open it wings and flies away. They both turn their heads following it, “and there it goes,”

            “I should be going home,”

            “It follows you, you know it. You’ll lose time ‘til your back here and even then,” she pulls on his arm, “tonight I’ll sit with you. We’ll be safer,”

            “No,”

            “Yes, believe me. I see them too,” her hand is shaking, “please, I don’t want to be the only one afraid anymore,”

            “I’m not afraid,” he frees his hand from her grasp, “you should take care of yourself,” and he walks away.

            “See you tonight,” she yells back to him just before he steps down and out.

            Instead of driving home Jean presses on a little longer to check himself into the ER at New Orleans East. He waits, staring at himself in the reflective dome mounted on the ceiling. The girl calls him up to check in, he sits on the bench in her cubicle as she reads his blood pressure and clips a heart monitor to his finger.

            “So what brings ya here today?”

            “Umm… I’m not feeling well,”

            “Most people heat up some soup, not make their way to the ER,”

            “I threw-up blood yesterday,” he casually imparts, she looks at him as if he were insane.

            “Why didn’t you come in then?”

            “Well, after I blacked out,”

            “You blacked out?”

            “After I blacked out, I woke up feeling fine,”

            “You should have come in then,”

            “I had work,” he shrugs.

            “Have you blacked out since,” he laughs.

            “Oh, yeah. I’m actually amazed I got here in one piece,”

            “Nausea, vomiting?”

            “Not since yesterday, my gut is fine, it’s my head I’m concerned with,” she logs into the computer.

            “Understood. have you hit your head recently?”

            “I fell yesterday, I work nights. So, I guess it was today. Less than five hours ago I hit my head,”

            “Another black out?” he remembers Delphine’s soaked figure dragging him to the floor and shutters.

            “No! no, no, well yeah, I guess,”

            “I’ll put that down as ‘yes,’ sit over there,” she points to the chair he was at, “they’ll call you up shortly,”

            He waits another few minutes before a heavyset nurse calls him up and shows him to his room. She gets his weight, height, draws a few vials of blood and tells him the doctor will be with him shortly, Jean nods and she goes on her way. He closes his eyes and is shaken by the doctor entering.

            “I see you are having black outs,” the doctor jams her ophthalmoscope in his eye.

            “Yeah,” she looks in his ears then tosses the plastic cap.

            “You need to clean those, tongue out,” he sticks it out, she looks down his throat, “close, look here,” she lifts her pen light, “follow,” he does, “ok, looks like you don’t have a concussion but we’d need an MRI to be sure. Check list, drugs or alcohol?”

            “Drugs no, alcohol not for a week or so,”

            “Do you smoke?”

            “Does that matter?”

            “Everything matters, and I’m legally obligated to inform you that just ten cigarettes is enough to alter the cells in your lungs, mouth, and throat, increasing your likelihood of cancer,” she feels his thyroid.

            “Well, yeah and apples increases your likelihood for pancreatic cancer; yet I think you aren’t required to give that spiel as often,” she laughs holding her clip board close, “no, I don’t smoke,”

            “Good, do you eat apples?” he laughs.

            “One or two, but that’s only on really hard days. I mean come-on we all need a vice, I’m sure even you,”

            “Apples, me? No, never touch the stuff. I just masturbate to relieve stress,” Jean shakes his head and she laughs at his reaction, “so when was your last blackout?”

            “Well depending on how quickly you came in after me it was either a few minutes or a few hours,”

            “And you’re sure this started before you hit your head?”

            “Yes,”

            “Alright, I’ll put in that order for an MRI,”

            “No,”

            “No?”

            “I don’t want to waste money on something I know it’s not,”

            “You don’t know it’s not,” she sighs, dropping her clipboard to her side.

            “Ok, you got me. I can’t afford it. I don’t want to be told I’m fine and pay thousands for nothing,”

            “And if you’re not?”

            “Then I guess I die, I just want to stop blacking out,”

            “Well… all I can say, if you won’t accept the test, is eat, sleep, and take it easy, but please understand that this could be a symptom of something more severe,”

            “Thanks doc, but I’m having some issue with a couple of those; I can’t keep anything down other than water and I can’t remember the last I slept,”

            “Drugs?”

            “Well, I wasn’t asking but if you’re offerin’,”

            “Alright I’ll give you a short script of Dronabinol, that’s a cannabinoid, it makes you hungry and should help to keep things down, and Temazepam to knock you out,”

            “Thank you,”

            “Call us if there are any issues. Shelly will be in, in a few minutes with your discharge papers and meds, and for God’s sake stay away from them apples,”

            “Will do,” he waits, receives the paperwork and medication and leaves.

            He takes the Dronabinol in the parking garage, picks up some fast food, and heads home. By the time he parks in his complex it’s almost nine, his stomach feeling cold and numbs, not hungry but he could also see himself eating another full meal. He opens the door and it comes up, a stomach cramp, he quakes in pain. Not a shriek or scream but laughter roars out of him as he spews forth his chain breakfast in the lot. He grips the roof of his car holding himself up, trying to avoid stepping in his sick, and creeps away to his apartment holding his bag of meds.

            Once safely inside the apartment his stomach calms but still he shakes. He wipes the sweat off his brow and pours a glass of water to take his sleeping pill. He lies on the couch and flips through the channels. Within fifteen minutes his quaking stops and he drifts off. The flash of his encounter with Delphine on the fourteenth comes to mind, this time she appears more haggard than before; skin grown grey and rough, her veins navy peering through the canvas and large blotches of hair missing. She grabs his wrist and looks at him with her milky eyes. Delphine grips at her jaw with her free hand, fingers wriggling and slapping over her cheek as she tears though the skin. She rips a small chunk and forces it into his mouth. Screaming, Jean unable to fight back, his feet and other arm are locked in place while the corps pushes the slice down his throat. He coughs, choking on the sour flesh. Still gripping, she rapidly descends, pulling him through the floor.

They pass each level seeing generation after generation of guests and iteration after iteration of décor until he’s plunged into the lobby and rushed to the carousel bar. The harlequins still laughing at him. Delphine lets go and drops him on the spinning bar. Clutching for dear life as the velocity increases, he drops his head to the wood looking outward seeing his reflection in the windows and picture frames. A second off, a second on, as the room spins those blanks reveal a change in each revolution. At the window, his clothes colorful. Nothing. The glass picture frame, his skin paler. The open room. The window, his clothes loose and baggy. Picture, lipstick and rouge. Window, chimes and he can hear them. The metallic jingling on his collar and shoes, even atop his head. He can feel those silver bells whipping about. He closes his eyes and the revolving bar slows. As it comes to a crawl he looks down to the polished wood of the bar and sees that the force had elongated and curved his face, his eyes now dark lifeless beads that float above his enormous dimpled cheeks; he has become the harlequin laughing. Jean wakes drenched with sweat in his room already dressed in new clothes ready for work. He pats his face dry, sprays on some dollar store off brand aerosol cologne and leaves.

            Feeling almost hungover he ignores most calls for the first couple hours. At one he rubs his eyes checking emails. Not reading just acknowledging receipt. The clattering of heeled shoes startles him. He brushes over his greasy hair to look presentable. It’s Sandra in street clothes, looking scared and scratching at a rash on the side of her neck. Jean shakes his head ‘no,’ in sync with her steps.

            “Don’t! Don’t say it!” she yells.

            “You’re going insane,”

            “You look like you’re halfway there yourself. C’mon, just the nigh. Just this night. You see ’em too. Don’t you?”

            “No, Sandy. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Go home, sleep,”
            “I can’t,” she hops over the desk and sits down, “it won’t let me, please; you haven’t heard things? Phone calls? Seen it? Jean?”

            “No,” the phone rings, he looks at it, it rings again, and he still doesn’t lift his hand.

            “Answer it,” she clucks, his hand hovers over it as it belts out another chime and he hears laughter, his laughter.

            “Hello,” hesitant, “Hotel Montleon, h-how may I assist you?” no one responds, he looks at her, so interested and concerned, he hums pretending there is someone on the line, jotting down six thirty AM on his note pad, “certainly, have a nice night,”

            “You’re a terrible liar,” she scoffs, he enters in a wake-up call for room twelve seventeen, “did they say anything?

            “Yeah, ‘wake me up,’ now go to bed,”

“I can’t! not until-“

“Not until what? We do a little stake out and see nothing? What does that prove?” Sandra shrinks into her seat, “do you really think that after tonight you’ll sleep any bett-” the phone rings again.

            “Hello Hotel Montleon, how may I help you?” Sandra answers, she become rigid, “yes, yes,” she turns her head to Jean, “you want me to kill them all,” concerned Jean touches her shoulder.

            “Sandra? Sandra!”

            “But he is my friend, I…”

            “Stop fucking with me, stop it,”
            “You are right,” she hangs up the phone, still looking at him with a cold indifference. She lifts her hands, partially cupped, thumbs touching in a choking ‘C’ shape, she leaps onto him, breaking his chair. He panics, rolling away, “you are so easy,” she bursts out laughing, Jean breathing deeply.

            “So, this has all been a rouse? All of it, a long con?” he kicks the severed leg of the chair, “damn it! God damn it! You’ve been behind it? No, Aimee and Venessa? Is Jésus in on it too? Fuck, that’s it,”

            “What?” her still laughing.

            “My two weeks,” he pulls up his email, she exes him out.

            “Don’t, I’m sorry,”

            “Why would you do that?” pinching the bridge of his noes he starts to cry.

            “It’s true, I haven’t been sleeping, nightmares, ghosts, whatever, all of it is true,”

            “Bullshit,”

            “I just needed a laugh, Jean. I’m sorry,”

            “Fuck you, I’m out,” he gathers his things off the desk, the phone rings.

            “I’m not doing it, answer,” he shakes his head, “what do they tell you?” he picks up the receiver and puts it to his ear.

            The phone rings and Jean wakes. Sandra gone, it’s three, he lost time again. The broken chair has disappeared. He stands to look around ignoring the chime. Red footprints appear on the polished granite floor and disappear almost as quickly, moving away from his desk. He follows the spectral steps to the grandfather clock where they stop. He looks up at the face that, with each beat of the second hand, changes color; from gold to green, to purple and red, the other arms spiral backwards. The body’s case opens and closes repeatedly. He presses his palms to his eyes rubbing until the clamor ceases and blood, ‘my cut must have reopened,’ he thinks. The phone continues to ring. He circles his desk hoping that it would all stop. The room on the caller ID is fourteen twenty-two.

            “Stop, just stop, please,” beads of sweat drip red on to the desk as he pounds away, shaking in terror, finally he answers “Hell-hello, Hotel Montleone,”

            “No night call? I was beginning to get use to them,” a young lady responds.

            “I’m sorry miss, do you have the right number?”

            “Ah, men. When you don’t want ‘em they’ll pound down your door ‘til the cows come home, but when you need ‘em, they won’t give you the time of day,”

            “It is three twelve miss, in the AM,”

            “Don’t be that way, you’ll never believe it but my cables out, you know the room don’t you,”

            “Fourteen twenty-two,” they answer in unison.

            “You got it,”

            “May I have a name?”

            “Quilla-June Smith,” though he half hears the name ‘Delphine,’ whispered in the back.

            Jean dials Jésus, the drone lingers, becoming slower with each ring. Eight rings, no answer, and no voicemail. He tries again, six rings this time then he hangs up. He brushes his drying sweat into his hair, pushing it up and over with his hand, he straightens his tie and goes on his way. The florescent hum in the elevator nails in a headache but other than that the ride is pleasantly uneventful. On the fourteenth floor he looks down both hallways. Down the tens he sees the decrepit Delphine standing in the corner wilted and falling apart, head violently shaking from one shoulder to the other. He turns the other way pretending not to see. His shadow grows darker and the weight of it around his feet disturbs him, it tugs at his heal to move backwards but he marches on. In the walls faces emerge; dozens of unrecognizables, a child from another era, ‘Maurice’ he thinks, Jésus, and Sandra. Sandra’s face lingers, her eyes connect with his, she smiles and glides across the plain. Pulling and stretching, an arm, a claw, a blood covered hand penetrates the walls elastic membranous film right beside him, gripping at his neck. Her head slides through, next to his, coated and blotted, hair matted and pulled back. He wheezes, struggling to free himself, as she pulls him in to the pulsating visceral realm. Jean takes in one deep breath before his head is submerged in the thick. Kicking his legs against the wall he hooks the entrance by his bent knees and frees an arm, scratching and clawing at everything and anything. She lets go, laughing as she dives deeper into the pool.

            Freed, Jean runs to fourteen twenty-two, he pounds on the door. Quilla-June opens. With terror in her eyes looking at him, through him, past him. She rushes back falling all the way, waving her hands to keep it at bay. He looks over his shoulder to see another mass crawling through the open wound. With claws and tendrils, and hooks and erroneous teeth. It hurtles after him. Jean runs down the hall, to the first exit sign. He enters the stairwell, immersed in darkness, the soulless high-pitched cackle of a nightmarish clown reverberates through the entire well and he feels it, the hotel, grasping at him, in him. It slowing, and choking, and teasing him. He runs towards the roof. The door stiff and hard to move. Thrusting his body against it as the pain in his head intensifies and a new pang in his gullet develops. The creature wraps its tentacles around his thigh. Kicking at the door with his free leg and jiggling the nob; finally opening the door. The pains grow the further he gets from the entity. He holds his stomach, vomiting the black ooze, sweating profusely and shaking. He comes to the water tank, bangs at its release hatch. He falls shaking and laughing, pressing his head to the cool steel of the metal tank.

            Eight hours later the hotel is closed and evacuated. Jésus and Sandra are found in the employee suite, tied together, heads bashed in with the broken leg of Jeans chair. Jésus stabbed a few times in the stomach by the legs sheared metal rod and sharp plastic. Sandra, still breathing, crying ‘Delphine,’ over and over, is taken to the nearest hospital where she is pronounced DOA. Jean is found on the roof curled up in front of the water tank, dead, covered in blood and vomit. The police undue the hatch to find the bloated and broken-down corpse of Delphine stewing in the tank, surrounded by a film of scum and yellow foam. The smell forces the three officers to swallow their own sick. The bloated girl is quickly identified by the police and management on site. As the scene is cleared the three bodies are moved and join Sandra in the county morgue. Sheila, the medical examiner, peruses the coroners’ reports:

Mancuseux, Delphine. Cause of death: drowning…

Rodriguez, Jésus. Cause of death: injuries sustained from blunt force trauma and multiple abdominal stab wounds…

Melvin, Sandra. Cause of death: blunt force trauma…

Moreau, Jean. Cause of death: unknown…

Sheila laughs at cause of death unknown,“you found him near a water tank. Heat stroke, dehydration. What a hack,” she thinks out loud. She scrubs and dawns her gloves to examine the bodies. First, the mysterious Jean. To her surprise neither heat stroke or dehydration fit, the little urine still in his bladder was light in color, liver and kidneys neither engorged or diminished. Further reading in the report states he was covered in sweat. She takes tissue samples throughout the autopsy, noting that his internals seem regular if not slightly malnourished. The only abnormality she records being slight vitreous hemorrhaging and multiple vessel ruptures on both retinas, indicative of a possible seizure or stroke. Next is the fowl smelling half dissolved corpse. She briefly wonders what they expect her to find, but she goes on. The contents of her abdominal cavity have mostly turned to a brown slurry. With what little she had to work with, she notes that the girl appeared to lack any signs of struggle or fight. The examination with Jésus is far easier; internal hemorrhaging and punctures, bruises around the neck, cranial lacerations around the sight of impact. Last, Sandra who sustained similar injuries on a superficial scale, choking and bludgeoning, but her internal organs remained intact. She, like with Jean, also showed some vitreous hemorrhaging in her left eye. Sheila finishes her notes on Sandra and walks to the back where Peter, one of her technicians, hovers over a microscope examining the samples.

            “Find anything?” she asks and, in a huff, he turns to her.

            “How old are these people? I mean the file can’t be right,”

            “Why?” he waves her over to the microscope.

            “Look for yourself,” she sits and looks, “mad man and swamp thing,” the brain tissue is riddled with large gaps of degenerated neurons, “looks like the late stages of Alzheimer’s,”

            “Or madcow,” she stops, turns her head and looks at him, “Or Kuru…”

            “Kuru?” she grabs at Delphine’s file and reads further:

            … it appears as though Mr. Moreau had locked Ms. Mancuseux in the water tank some six months ago. While attempting to dispose of Mr. Rodriguez and Mrs. Melvin in a similar manner he collapsed and subsequently died… 

            “Six months… six months rotting away,” she thinks of Sandra and Jésus in the employee suite, tied up, “why were they down-stairs?”

            “What?”

            “Rodriguez and Melvin, why wouldn’t he bring up the bodies if he’s trying to get rid of them? God, Bill’s an idiot! He… Moreau, had no idea the girl was in the tank. He was running to the water tank for the same reason she did,” she pulls the slide for brain from the microscope, “subacute spongiform encephalopathy,” she smiles, “like the ’heimer’s but on ’roids. Prion carried disease, fucks with the head, like madcow,”

            “So, it’s transmittable?”

            “Yes, through consumption,”

            “Are you going on the assumption that he was not only not responsible for the maids’ death but was somehow also cannibalizing her?”

            “No-no-no, well… yes. But not intentionally. I mean six months drinking water spiked with the rotting corpse of a carrier and boom,” with her free hand she slaps the table, “I bet if we take a look at Mrs. Melvin’s brain we’d see the same thing,” she laughs.

            “What?”

            “Nothing, it just reminds me of an old saying, ‘in whisky there is wisdom, in wine there is truth, in water there is bacteria.’ Should have stuck to whisky and wine my friend,” she laughs’ harder while Peter looks down pulling the slide from her hands and stares at it intently “what?” still smiling but concerned by Peters cold disposition.

            “How many people you think drank that water?”

Dorian Xanyn is an emerging writer, having been published a few times for his memoirs. One of which, ‘Shits-Creek,’ placed in the 2018 Freshwater Literary Journal writing contest. Dorian’s most recent publication ‘Ball-Peen,’ was published in the March 2019 issue of Thirty Wests literary journal Tilde. A miscreant off the streets of Fall River who enjoyed stirring the pot Dorian’s only real passion, other than messing with people, is writing. Eventually he moved to Connecticut to further his education; meeting his current partner, adopting a rabbit and dog, and now Dorian lives a relatively quiet life and occasionally has an idea worthy enough to put pen to paper.

The author has not provided a photo.