The car’s engine sputtered to a stop, the vehicle seeming to emit a long sigh of relief after so many miles. For a moment or two, the young couple simply sat and listened to the quiet and gazed out at the starry skies over the ocean. The relief of knowing that their long journey was finally at an end made them almost too weak to get out of the car.
But, being young newlyweds, other thoughts soon seeped into their minds. They smiled at each other, maybe even leered a bit, and got out of the car.
It was a lot colder than they’d expected, and the wind that whipped the salty, fishy air off the water was relentless. Fog sat like a fat, lazy cat out on the horizon, waiting for the coast to turn its back. It was only a matter of time before the clouds would cover the sky and claim the land as their own.
Jessica shivered, and pulled her coat closer to her body. “Wow, the weather sure is different than it is inland. And I didn’t think the sun would go down so quickly!”
Miguel pulled the luggage from the trunk with a grunt. “I guess time went past faster than we thought. Holy crap, I’m freezing!”
Jess turned to chide her husband. “You’re the one who decided you didn’t need a jacket.”
Miguel made a face. “I didn’t decide nothin’. I just plain forgot it. I’m not used to this weather.”
Jess shook her head. “You’ve been in Oregon for the past eight months. It’s late autumn. What kind of weather did you expect?”
“We’re coming from the eastern part of the state. You know. Desert? Heat? Warm air?” He smiled at his bride, then grimaced into the wind. “Let’s get inside before I freeze.”
* * *
The lobby was dimly-lit and empty, except for the man at the reception desk. Jess glanced at her watch, and was surprised to see that it was already 11 o’clock at night. “That took a lot longer than I thought,” she mumbled to herself. “Good thing we didn’t stop for dinner.”
Miguel was at the receptionist desk. “We’re checking in–sorry we’re kinda late. Didn’t figure the time well enough.” He glanced meaningfully at Jess, who elbowed him good-naturedly.
“Right. Blame me,” she said with a smile. Then she gave him a peck on the cheek.
The man behind the desk watched humorlessly, then bent to his computer. “Name?”
“Gonzales. Miguel and Jessica.” Miguel raised his eyebrows at the man’s demeanor, then made a face at the top of his balding head. Jessica had to walk away to keep from letting the man hear her laugh.
“Yes. Here we are…” Suddenly the man’s eyes widened in surprise, and he looked up at the newlyweds. “We have you in Room…F66…” His voice trailed off. Suddenly very polite, he hurried through the rest of the paperwork. In no time, he handed the keycards to Miguel and, with a wide smile, directed them towards the elevator and bid them a good night.
“Odd. Wonder what caused the change? Did you slip him a twenty? Or your flask?” Jess teased Miguel. She looked casually back over her shoulder, and stopped mid-stride. “Miguel…,” she whispered, and pointed. Miguel turned to look.
The reception desk was dark. No one stood there, and the lights were also off in the rooms behind it. The two of them had only taken a few stops across the lobby.
“Huh. Guess he was in a right royal hurry to get out of here,” Miguel mused.
“Yeah, we were pretty late getting here. Nice for him to have waited for us.”
“That’s for sure.” Miguel nibbled Jess’s ear as they went up in the elevator. “I’m sure we would have attracted way too much attention if we’d spent our wedding night in the car.”
Jess giggled as he nuzzled her collarbone. “Hey, save it ’til we get into our room…” She gasped when he reached the hollow at the base of her neck.
“Mmmm, this is an awfully slow elevator. Maybe we can just stop it between floors, and take our time calling for help.” Miguel’s voice was getting huskier, and he reached behind Jess for the floor buttons.
She shrieked, “Don’t you dare! You know how I hate enclosed places!” She pinched his extended arm.
“Ouch! Okay! I was just kidding. Now, where were we…?”
At that moment, the elevator doors slid open onto their floor. Miguel sighed dramatically. “Foiled again.”
“That’s right, mister, and don’t you forget it,” Jess teased.
The hall lights blazed a trail down the corridor, except for the very back, where it abruptly ended in darkness. Jess’s heart thumped anxiously; not only did she not like elevators or small places, she didn’t like the dark. She clung to Miguel’s arm as the two of them fought their luggage down the hall. They looked at each door, Jess praying that F66 would be reached before the dark chasm at the end would swallow them up in its maw.
They came to the last door that was bathed in light, and Jess whimpered as she read the number. F60. “Ohhhh nooo, this isn’t good,” she quavered. She looked at Miguel and set her heels, refusing to go any further.
“Jess? Come on. It’s just there, three feet further down the hall. You can make it.”
“No. Don’t you see? It’s not only dark. It’s…dark.” She waved at the air in front of the door. Miguel blew out an exasperated breath and looked. His eyebrows shot up.
The dark seemed to have a life of its own. The blackness was so absolute that it hid all things at the end of the hall. If there were pictures on the walls or plants by the door, they were not evident.
“Honey, don’t worry about it. We’re blocking most of the light just standing here. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll get out the flashlight and go get the door opened. Then I’ll turn on a light, and you can hurry in, okay?” Miguel did not like to feed his wife’s fears, but at this moment, psychology in the hallway was not part of his agenda.
Jess nodded gratefully, her fear-rounded eyes staring at the lightless area before her.
“Alright.” He hefted down his overnight bag from his shoulder, which meant dumping his backpack and her overnight bag as well. After a moment of fishing, he pulled out a small flashlight and switched it on.
The beam barely penetrated the void between the couple and their room. As he proceeded toward the door, the light from the flashlight wavered and almost went out. Miguel shook the instrument, and the light steadied, although the beam was much smaller. It was as if the darkness was allowing only so much light and no more. It enveloped the beam, surrounded it. The illumination did not dissipate the darkness so much as it fought its way through it.
All this Jess observed, shaking and fearful as she stood ready to run in the opposite direction. Miguel and the light disappeared into the void, and Jess held her breath. It seemed agonizing hours before another light, brighter than the flashlight beam, broke through the darkness, shattering its hold on her mind.
“See? No problem.” Miguel held out a hand to her and smiled. Relieved, Jess picked up the rest of the luggage and walked very quickly into the warmth and safety of their room.
It was a beauty; everything the brochure had said about the Deluxe Suite was the truth. A gorgeous duvet covered a king-sized, raised bed. She quickly looked under the overhanging fabric–good, it was on a pedestal. No hiding places there. Enough with the paranoia, she admonished herself.
Miguel was checking out the cupboards in the kitchenette. He opened the refrigerator and whistled low. “Hey, babe, they left us some champagne!” He held up a bottle. The light from overhead twinkled through the fluid inside, and Jess smiled. “That was really nice of them,” she said.
“Tell ya what,” Miguel said in a low voice, crossing over to her. “I’m going to take a shower and get some of this road-weariness off me. How about if you slip into something a little…less? I won’t be long.”
He kissed her, a long, slow encounter that left her wanting more. Then he smiled and drew a soft finger under her jaw line. He raised her chin up and stared into her eyes. “Don’t forget me while I’m gone,” he breathed.
“Better hurry,” Jess whispered. “I have a full dance ticket.”
“Hmph.” He raised his eyebrows and did a slow, one-person waltz into the bathroom.
As Jess was pulling out champagne glasses from a cupboard, she heard a faint sobbing. She stopped moving and cocked an ear. It came again, seemingly from the other side of the wall. “Oh, please,” she muttered with a wry smile. She walked around the wall to the bathroom door and pounded on it, trying to make herself heard above the sound of the rushing water. “Miguel? Hey, Guel!! ” No answer. Smiling, she hollered, “Hey amigo! What for the waterworks? Do you miss your mama’s paella already?” She stood next to the door, laughing to herself, as he turned the water off with a frustrated sound and opened the door.
“What?” he asked, soap in one eye.
“I heard you crying, Miguel. What’s up with that? Is it the soap, or your momma’s paella?” She laughed, but her amusement faded as he looked strangely at her. “What are you talking about? I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t singing either, so that couldn’t have been it.” He half-smiled at his own joke. “Although my singing has made other people cry…”
Jess’s brow wrinkled. “Then…what did I hear?”
“The wind? It has really picked up out there.” Miguel looked Jess up and down. “I asked for ‘less’. This”, he fingered her sweater, “is defined as ‘more’. Please try again.”
Smiling, Jess grabbed the bottom of her sweater and pulled it off over her head. She danced away from his soapy hands, laughing. He grunted and shut the door. In a moment the water was running again.
Jess shook her head. What a ninny. She’d been a nervous sort all of her life, always hearing things that turned out to be explainable. It was a surprise to her that Miguel had fallen for her, much less married her. She wouldn’t have fallen for such a paranoid nutcase such as herself.
She hummed as she put out the wineglasses on the kitchen table. As she rummaged through the drawers looking for a dish towel, she heard the weeping again. She stood up, listening hard. It did sound like the wind.
Must be shaping up into a real storm out there, she thought to herself. She strode across the room to look outside. Opening the curtains just enough to peek out, she was surprised at what she saw..
There was no wind whatsoever. The lights below shone against trees and foliage that were as still as death.
The whimpering and sobbing were now behind her! The blood rushed from her face, and she closed her eyes. Don’t want to look, don’t want to look, don’t want…But she felt compelled as the crying got louder.
She turned slowly to face the inside of the room. What she saw made her scream and run to the front door.
On the bed was the figure of a young woman. She was face-down, her long chestnut hair spread around her like a halo. She had her fingers dug into the duvet, and she was sobbing. Blood poured from under her head, staining the white bedspread.
The door wouldn’t open, no matter how hard Jess twisted the knob.
The sobs turned into a wail. Unable even in her fright to quell her curiosity, Jess turned slowly to look behind her.
The apparition had pushed itself up to look in her direction. The hollow eyes of the wraith, for such she was, pleaded silently as she stared at the terrified mortal. Tears flowed down the ghost’s face, mixing with the blood that gushed forth from thousands of small punctures on her neck. She held out a hand to Jess, as if silently begging for help.
“No!”, Jess screamed, sliding down the wall and curling up into herself. “No! Oh God help me!” She rocked back and forth frantically, screaming over and over.
Hands grabbed her shoulders, and she screeched in terror. Writhing, she fought against whatever foul thing that was holding onto her.
“Jess! Jessica! It’s Miguel!” He shook her, but gently, trying not to let his own fear translate into what Jess may have perceived as violence.
Jess stopped at once, staring blindly up into her husband’s face. Then she collapsed into his strong, safe arms.
He rocked her, the smell of the hotel’s lavender bath soap soothing her nerves. After a moment, he pushed her back and looked into her eyes. “Now, what is wrong, mia?” he asked.
Jess pointed a shaking finger at the bed. “G..ghost!” she managed to croak. “On the bed!”
Miguel looked over his shoulder. “I don’t see anything, love.”
“T-there’s b-blood…everywhere!” Jess stammered, covering her eyes and trembling.
Miguel got up and walked over to the bed. The duvet was white as snow. He shrugged and turned to his wife. “Looks okay to me.”
On shaking legs, Jess slowly followed Miguel to where the ghost had lain. She could only stare at the crisp white counterpane. “It..it was there!” She stared at Miguel. “I saw it!”
He took her gently in his arms, kissing the top of her head. “Well, whatever it was, we’re alone now.” His seeking lips found hers, and became much more urgent. He guided her towards the bed, bestowing little gifts of love on her face and shoulders.
Just as he was about to lay her tenderly on the duvet, the TV crackled to life. Surprised, both of them could only stare as the nightly news blared from the set.
“Did you…”? asked Miguel.
Jessie only shook her head numbly, her eyes on the TV screen.
“In tonight’s news,” the newscaster burbled, “a grisly find on the beach right here in Coastline.” The screen flashed to a rescue crew out on the beach. Lights bounced and glared off the workers as they strained to dig up something before the tide came in.
The voice went on. “A lone midnight stroller was walking along the surfline tonight when he tripped over what turned out to be a human rib bone. Authorities are working to find the rest of the body before the ocean reclaims its secret. A hotel-by-hotel investigation is underway, but there are few clues as to who this corpse might have belonged to. We do know that it is that of a young woman. Dental records will reveal her name within a few days.”
Jess stared at Miguel. “The ghost I saw! She was young!”
Miguel shook his head. “I do think your imagination is working overtime, mi corazon. Let me work it in another direction.” He nuzzled her, and pushed her down onto the bed.
But Jess squirmed out from under him, and ran to sit in a chair. She huddled into herself, staring where Miguel lay, stunned. “I…I can’t…sleep there. Not after…”
Miguel groaned and ran a hand through his wet hair. They did warn me…”Okay, Jess, how about this? The couch makes into a bed. Takes no time. How about that?”
“No. I want a different room.”
Miguel sighed. Whatever. This will take time. I just hope I don’t explode. He said, “Okay, I will call downstairs and see what else they have open.”
But there was nothing else, according to the voice at the other end of the line. He would be happy to check around town, but it was midnight, so he doubted anything else would be open.
“Okay. So. We sleep here or in the car.” Miguel was losing patience. “Or,” and he looked meaningfully at Jess, still hunched in the chair with her knees drawn up, “we go back.” He emphasized that last word, and Jess started in surprise and shock.
“You wouldn’t,” she breathed.
Miguel shrugged. “If you can’t prove yourself able to be out in the real world…”
Jess shook her head quickly. “No! No, okay, I’m…okay, fine. The couch is…great.” She looked at the sofa as if it contained dead rats.
“Good.” Miguel tore off the couch cushions, and in no time had put the sofabed together. Years of sleeping on his brother’s couch had taught him a thing or two. Jess watched him as he strode toward the bed and snatched up the bedspread.
“No! Not that. Are there any spare blankets in the closet?” She shrunk into the chair, staring at the duvet.
Miguel rolled his eyes, dropped the bedcover, and opened the closet doors. “One. And no sheets.”
“That will be okay for tonight. Really. Then we can get something else, or move further up the coast, tomorrow.” Her words came in a rush as she nervously regarded the spot where the ghost had bled so profusely.
Miguel stared at his wife, and shook his head in wonder. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought…
* * *
They lay side-by-side in the darkness, staring at the ceiling. Neither spoke for a long time. Finally Jess turned to her husband. “Miguel, I am so sorry. It’s just…” She waved vaguely at the room.
He turned and gazed at her softly. “I know. Tomorrow night we will go somewhere else. Then we will celebrate our love.” He caressed her face gently with his hand. “Now, try to get some sleep.”
Jess nodded, overwhelmed at the love she felt for this kind, understanding soul. She closed her eyes, listening to him as he made himself comfortable. In no time, he had drifted off. His soft snores were a sort of lullaby for her jangled nerves. She, too, finally fell asleep.
Somewhere in the witching hours of the night, Miguel woke with a start. He wasn’t sure right away as to why he had awakened, but it gradually came clear that he was quite alone in bed. He turned over to see his wife staring out of the open door onto the balcony, the curtains flung to the very edges of the windows. Most surprising was that she had the duvet around her shoulders.
He got up and said her name. She turned to him, then wordlessly turned back. He couldn’t see her face in the dark, but her quietness alarmed him. He got up and walked to where he could stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders.
“Jess,” he said quietly.
“Hm?” She didn’t seem to be fully awake.
“Are you…having trouble sleeping? Are you cold?” He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, which were snugged under the bedspread.
“Umm…no. Yes. I don’t know…” she murmured, clutching the duvet.
“Why are you at the door here? Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Uhm…” She suddenly turned to stare at him. “Miguel?” she asked, as if she hadn’t known he was there.
“Yes, my love. I am here.”
She turned back to the glass door. “Good. I had a dream you were gone…”
He held her close, but she didn’t respond. “I wouldn’t leave you.”
Suddenly she looked down at the coverlet and screeched, throwing it off. Kicking it furiously, she opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony. Miguel followed, puzzled.
She turned to him. “Oh. I’m…sorry.” She was fully awake now, but her face showed some confusion. “Um, you go on ahead back in. I’ll be inside in a few minutes.”
He looked at her questioningly, but retreated.
Jess watched the promenade below her window, relishing the quiet that came with the passage of day into late night. Where both tourists and townspeople came and went during the hours of light, she saw only a lone cat making its way along the strand. She watched as it poked its head out between the balustrades to stare at something only it could see. It wandered silently but purposefully along the promenade, poking its head into trash cans and jumping atop the railing that kept the less-agile humans from toppling into the sand.
Suddenly it came to an abrupt stop, arching its back. In an instant, it had turned and run the opposite way, its tail low. Jess looked at where it had been, and saw a shadow disengage itself from the larger darkness around it. She watched dispassionately as the shadow morphed into a human shape. It became a man, youngish, but ageless at the same time.
She heard voices coming from the other direction, and turned to see a couple of young people, hand in hand, strolling slowly up the promenade. Wishing she was one of them, she let her gaze move along with their steps.
Suddenly there was a blur, and a pair of shrieks, and both of them lay still on the sidewalk, blood pooling from their throats. Jess shrunk back in horror, but not before she saw the shadow-man standing amidst them, his face covered in blood.
And he was staring right at her!
She gave out a blood-curdling scream and rushed back into the room, closing and locking the door. Miguel sat up in bed, his eyes frantic.
“What is it?” he asked, refraining from saying “now”, which he dearly wanted to say.
Jess panted, her eyes round with fear and panic. “He…he saw me…he killed…”
Her words were cut off in mid-sentence, as something heavy crashed into the glass balcony door.
Jessica squealed in fright and ran around to the other side of the bed, falling onto Miguel. He held her, close to panic himself, and listened intently for any further sound from the other side of the door.
Miguel turned on the light, and gently nudged Jess off of him. “Mia, let me go see what that was…”
“No!” she pleaded, shaking with fear. “It’s him! The…the shadow man! Don’t go over there!”
Miguel extricated himself from his wife’s grip and moved slowly into the kitchen, looking for a weapon. Pulling open a drawer, he lifted out a kitchen knife, then inched towards the balcony. There wasn’t a sound now; the moon shone peacefully down on the ocean, leaving a silvery trail of light. Miguel relaxed a little.
“It was probably a cat, thumping down onto the balcony,” he assured Jess in a whisper. She shook her head, pulling the recently-discarded duvet up to her shoulders as she huddled against the wall.
“No cat could make that loud a sound,” she whispered back. Miguel shrugged slightly and gave her a knowing look. “Where I come from, Jess, they can.”
He resumed moving toward the door. Jess followed him with her eyes, trembling more with each step he took.
Just as he got up to the door and prepared to open it, the moonlight was suddenly blacked out. Miguel jumped back, holding the knife in front of him, and stared wildly at the apparition in the glass. Jess screamed and jumped up, running behind Miguel and pulling him away.
“Out! We have to get out of here! That’s him!” she shrieked.
The specter stepped closer, out of the darkness of the unlit balcony and into the light from the room. He stared back at them for a moment, then a huge, horrible smile twisted his face into something diabolical. Fangs protruded from between his lips, stained with fresh blood.
The two in the room both cried out and ran toward the opposite door. It still wouldn’t open. They beat on the door, calling out frantically, hoping someone would be awake to hear them.
A gust of cold death ran across their backs, and they turned to see that the shadow man was now inside the room with them. Miguel trembled as much as his wife, but he swallowed and took a step forward, raising the knife. “How dare you! What are you doing in our room? Get out!” He waved the knife menacingly.
The shadow man, now obviously a solid being, spoke in a deep, silky voice as he stared at Miguel. “I believe you are mistaken. This is, and always has been, my room.” He waved his arm towards the pedestal bed, and the mattress lifted silently up on one side.
The inside of the pedestal was lined in silk, with a small pillow at one end. There were bloodstains everywhere. Miguel and Jess could only cling to each other and stare in horror at the ghastly sight.
The stranger stared too, but with an appraising look. “Ah, dear Feleshia, he murmured, almost to himself, “you were quite the treat for a long time. How I shall miss you. But,” and here he turned to address the terrified couple before him, “your replacement is here.” He gazed lasciviously at Jess, and licked his lips. “Yes, you will do quite well.”
Jess screamed and hid behind Miguel, whose Latin temper overcame any fear he might have had. He rushed at the hideous creature before him, roaring his anger.
But before he could get closer than a couple of feet, he was stopped, practically in mid-air, by a mere look from his enemy. The intruder stared into Miguel’s eyes, and spoke quietly. “You, Miguel Gonzales, know nothing of this encounter. All you know is that you made a mistake when you married Jessica.”
At this, Jess screeched and ran at the man, who grabbed her by the arm and threw her into the pedestal-coffin. She screamed and jumped out, wiping her hands on her nightgown. Hugging herself, she backed away from the two men, and searched for her own weapon.
The stranger went on in his hypnotic voice, while Miguel struggled to move, to speak, to regain control of himself. “You woke up tonight to find your wife gone. She had packed her things and left. There was a note. She no longer wanted to be with you. She wrote that you were her only way to escape the state mental hospital you found her in. And now she was free, and leaving you for a life of her own.”
“No, that’s not true!” Jess wailed, trying to get to her husband. “I’m still here, and I love you, Miguel!”
But the evil creature had Miguel under his thrall. Jess saw with horror that Miguel’s eyes had glazed over, and he was barely breathing. She tried to pull Miguel away, but then found ice-cold hands around her throat. She struggled for air as two red, glowing eyes stared into hers.
“I’ll deal with you soon enough, Jessica. Until then, kindly keep quiet.” And suddenly she found herself thrown against a wall, where she slumped down to the floor, unable to move.
The stranger turned back to Miguel. “You are despondent. You cannot live without her. In a moment, you will write a note to your family, and you will leave this room. There is a cliff a half-mile down the beach. You will hurl yourself off that cliff and onto the rocks below.”
Jess managed to scramble up onto her feet. Taking the heavy decorative bowl from the coffee table, she smashed it over Miguel’s captor’s head. He merely turned and looked at her, a small streak of blood running down his face. Smiling, he wiped his cheek and put his bloodied finger into his mouth. She backed off, panting with fear, and ran for the sliding door.
But he was there first. She fought to go around him, but he held her fast. As she struggled and kicked at him, he chuckled in his throat, then grabbed her hair, yanking her face towards his.
In a low, dead-calm voice, he said, “If you attack me one more time, I can make the rest of your pitiful existence a living hell.”
She screamed, and yelled back at him, “You already have! You’ve taken my Miguel! My life is meaningless without my husband.”
“Yes, because you have no next of kin, I believe.” He smiled coldly as her eyes widened. “Oh, yes, my Jessica, it is no accident that you are here tonight. I read up on all of my guests. It’s been twenty years since Feleshia and I had a conversation something like this one.” He glanced quickly at the coffin-bed. “How I do miss her…” He leered at Jess, who squirmed to get away.
“Now,” he said, turning to where Miguel still stood frozen, “I will take care of a little business, and then we can get better acquainted.” He strode over to his victim. Jess crept behind her captor, but he swept his hand behind himself, and she, too, was frozen in place.
“Now, sir, if you would be so kind…” He handed Miguel a hotel notepad and pen. “Write what I tell you.”
Jess could only look on, tears running down her face, while her heart of hearts penned a suicide note. She howled in grief as he turned numbly toward the door to the hallway. It opened silently on its own, and Miguel walked out.
“Miguel!” she screamed, grief and terror making his name a banshee wail.
He never turned around. The door closed on her final sight of him.
She cried then, great wracking sobs that shook her body. The demon just stood and watched until she had spent her energy and tears. Then he approached her. He lifted her chin with his fingers, but she shook him off.
He sighed. “I do hate having to explain things. But I suppose I must.” He caressed her hair, which made her cringe. She could hardly breathe from the terror and trembling that pervaded her body. “You will get used to me, Jessica. After all, you will be here with me for quite a long time.”
She could only stare at him, wide-eyed, shaking her head.
“Oh, yes, my dear, I’m afraid that is why I had you installed in my room.” He moved away from her and paced, his hands behind his back. “Sixty years ago,” he explained, “I came to this town, fleeing my ancient homeland to get away from those who would destroy me. I made my home in this hotel, and ‘set up shop’, as it were. But I decided early on that I was tired of the hunt, and so I made a deal with the good townsfolk. That is, the ones I brought under my power. I would buy this hotel, which was an eyesore at the time, remodel it, and bring in tourism and income. In exchange, they would leave me alone, only supplying me with what I needed to exist. First there was Nancy, who served my needs for a good eighteen years. Then Feleshia, whom you’ve met.”
Jess squealed in fear. “The…the…”
“Ghost. Yes. I’m afraid that the dear girl developed an infatuation for me, a situation which I can neither stomach nor use to my advantage. Besides, there were people who had come here several times in the past twenty years, and started to wonder how Feleshia stayed so young. I couldn’t have people asking nosy questions, now could I?” He raised an eyebrow at Jess.
She backed away until she could go no further, shaking her head in shock and horror. He advanced on her, his fangs glistening in the lamplight.
“NO!!” she screamed, running to the other side of the room, trying to get closer to the balcony door. There is no reason to live if I don’t have Miguel. I must get out so I can join him in eternity.
He whisked in front of her, causing her to jump back, her arms up to try and protect herself. “Do you know what will happen if you refuse me?” he growled. “Here, let me show you.”
And he was gone! Jess looked around wildly, then jerked when she heard his voice in her head. “Come look out over the balcony, Jessica.”
She crept out onto the enclosure and peered uncertainly over the side. What she saw made her heart freeze.
He was on the sidewalk below, with a struggling child in each arm. She heard him again. “All of these good citizens, from the oldest to the youngest, will be at my ‘mercy’, a trait which I do not have. Do you want to be responsible for their deaths? Every one of them will be on your head, because you could have stopped me just by cooperating.”
Jessica pulled her head back into the shelter of the balcony and crouched down, shaking with fear. She closed her eyes and sobbed.
Then she shrieked as powerful hands grabbed her and pulled her up. He whispered into her ear. “Which will it be, them or you? Don’t worry, what I take from you will not be your death. But,” and his voice took on a menacing tone, “I will certainly make sure you die if you refuse me. Cooperate, and everyone lives. Defy me, and all will be at risk. And they will only be the first ones.” He smiled as he could see his threat hit home.
Jessica sank into a patio chair and stared bleakly up at her captor. “I really don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“Hmmm, come to think of it, you don’t,” he murmured. Then he bent to her exposed throat.
* * *
The next day, the TV flashed on in Room F66, now empty and tidy once again, waiting for the next unsuspecting vacationers. The newscaster’s voice spilled out into the uncaring air: “The body of a man was found at the base of the cliff south of Coastline. The police are withholding his name until his family can be notified…”
* * *
Jess rolled her housekeeping cart up the corridor, the light turtleneck sweater she wore feeling a bit itchy. She put it down to the many scars and holes on her throat that had either healed or were in the process of healing.
He hadn’t bid her come to him in a week. That hadn’t happened, ever, in the twenty years she had been servicing him. The need to see him again, for his touch, for their hours in his bed, was getting unbearable. As she passed the hallway leading to his room, she couldn’t help but look down in that direction.
She froze in disbelief. Someone was actually entering the room! She left her cart and hurried down to the door. His door. Their door.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked. The other woman turned to her, and Jessica was mildly shocked to see such misery on her face.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” She smiled sadly and closed the door.
Jessica moved away, confused. Is he mad at me? Doesn’t he love me anymore? No one had spent the night in that room since me and…me…and…someone. Who? Was I alone then? She shook her head to dispel her thoughts. No matter. What counts is now. What counts is us.
She walked back to her cart and wheeled away, a plan growing in her mind.
* * *
The woman slept soundly, Jess could give her credit for that. Nothing seemed to wake her; not the click of the door’s lock, nor the opening of the kitchen drawer.
Jessica moved slowly on shoeless feet to the side of the bed. The moonlight fell on the woman’s sad face as she slept on, curled up in a ball. Jess almost felt sorry for her.
She moved closer to the figure on the bed, and raised the knife.