Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Intermission: An Unwanted Guest

Dust moved across the barren desert landscape, pressed by a hot wind, settling against the windshield of the parked Ford Ranger that sat far removed from the main road. Miles and miles of sand stretched in every direction of the truck, which looked more like the displaced victim of a aberrant desert whirlwind, with a single occupant inside studying a large map. Several places on the map had been circled and labeled with a red ink pen and connected to one another with a black marker. The face behind the map grew more intensely with its stare. A garbled voice came over the radio informing him of new likely "hot spots" that he then marked on his map.
     "Are you sure about the new locations?"
     "The coordinates are direct from the Vatican."

The man folded the map and stored it in the console. He then reached for the Laptop in the passenger seat, opening it. The screen slowly woke from its hibernation revealing a digital version of the man, which he inserted the new coordinates into, and then waited for the data to refresh.

     "Do you see it?" The crackled voice asked.

He then removed all of the legend, leaving only those markers he had been tracking, and rubbed his chin quizzically.

     "Do you see it, Father Writhe?"

Father John Writhe leaned back in his seat, eying the young man staring back at him with his five o'clock shadowed smile. Ignoring the voice on the radio for the moment, his thoughts were more on what could be unfolding around him. The event he was sent to investigate and quash as wide spread panic by civil rumor that likely went viral via modern technologies. As it stood now, this would not be the report the Vatican was expecting. If the new data was accurate, as it had been on previous predictions, something wicked was happening and there was nothing he, nor the Vatican, could do about it. The voice called to him again, asking the same question it had before. He finally swallowed the uncertainty down and answered.

     "Yes, Bishop Verrelli. May God watch over us all."

The screen now showed only the markings on the white grid. Time would tell the tale, if the predictions were correct.

The world was changing. Father Writhe had visited the places on his map, finding only those which the local authorities had already archived. The Predictions could only give potential "event" coordinates and he could not be in all places at once at all times, which meant he would need Luck on his side if he were to find the Motel as the event unraveled in real time. His faith was being tested, he knew this much. Finding the Motel was like searching for a needle in a murky pool without goggles. He stepped out from the truck and took a few paces. 

     "You know I cannot do this alone. I have spent the past four years documenting the events that have taken place across this wasteland, and not one ever spawned anything more than some sick sadistic demon appeasing the will of the Archangel. But this," He said pointing all around him. "This is different, isn't it?" 

     "Surely, the signs He provided throughout the years would have given cause to alarm, John." A deep calm voice said from behind him.  

Father Writhe did not turn. One never looked into the eyes of his Guardian, considered a high offense and insult when confronted by Man. He had not heard the voice of Grigori in some time, years it must have been, since the last major quakes that killed four thousand people when it was all said and done. Grigori only appeared to him when things were already beyond the threshold. It was never for just pleasantries. 

     "I thought the whole point of good versus evil was to have balance in the world. There is no balance to all this Grigori."

     "He truly works in mysterious ways Father. You know this better than anyone."

     "The world is beginning to dwarf that of the Great Flood. Chaos is rampant and fueled further by the aggressions of man. The ground trembles, the air swirls and the waters rise just as it was foretold they would; but the Motel what purpose does its serve in prophecy?"

There was a silence shared among them. Then as a warm wind picked up from the north, an answer followed. 

     "There is only one way to find out my friend. Find the next event." 

With this the voice was gone with the wind. Father John Writhe stood alone in the desert. His thoughts only on the objective given to him by his Lord. He nodded and turned for the truck. Its tires spun in the hot sand, pushing the truck forward hastily in a direction chosen in random, for there was nothing else he could go on but his own blind faith.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Room 36B: The Big Scoop

It started with a blog. Well, to be more accurate in its recollection, it all started with a foolish idea to start a blog that landed Colby Kurtins in the predicament he was currently dissecting within those few precious moments; before, the lights turned out on him for good. He tried to ignore the pain, replaced with foolish regret. He should have known by the site of the meeting place things were not going to fair well. The Motel was in the middle of No Man's Land surrounded with hot desert hills, the occasional tumbleweed, cacti and miles upon miles of empty highway. Had he known better, he would have kept driving his car passed the entrance without looking back; but, as a struggling writer, the interview waiting for him at the Motel was too hard to turn away.

Colby continued to struggle, when the pain left his limbs and he fell limp against the side of the bed. The quick sting on his left shoulder had removed the pain he felt, allowing his thoughts to focus solely on regretting his past. His only thought on the moment was comparing himself to a fly caught in a spider's web, its sting incapacitating him long enough for it to wrap him in its silky cocoon.

His last blog involved the latest zombie craze. The numerous movies and books that had flooded library shelves had peeked his interest enough to write about the phenomena. He had written several post before that only he and a handful of others actually took the time to read them. Since nothing else seemed to spark any interest in the blog, he might as well take a chance on fads. Among his research was an independent documentary called, "Life As A Corpse" shot as a mockumentary that poked fun at all the recent zombie craze of the new millennium. The film did a spot with a gentleman from the Louisiana Bayou named, Acredis Zombi, a Witchdoctor who specialized in shrunken heads, as well as the black arts. After the camera crew interviewing him had wrapped, the camera then catches the sudden attack on the journalist, followed by shrieking screams as the screen fades to black. Colby remembered laughing at this part. He wasn't sure which was worse, the movie or the special effects on Doctor Zombi.

It only took one fanatic reader to spread the blog to the next, eventually making the post a smashing success, reaching far beyond his own expectations in its creation. In the weeks following the successful post, Colby tracked the rentals of the documentary, finding that rentals and sales had increased 50% in the last two weeks alone. It was enough to convince him more on Zombies would return a higher reward for himself. By midweek he had completed his next post entitled, "Calling Doctor Zombi" and, like the post before it, it too was a huge success with his growing list of followers. Colby had finally found some solace in his efforts. His writing had been seen now by more people in the last few weeks than the whole of his career.

Colby felt the cold hands grip around each of his wrists, pulling him across the room towards the closet. He watched helplessly as the dark skinned man slid open the closet door. The floor inside the closet had been dug away, piles of concrete mixed with dirt set off to the side of the hole in the floor, just big enough for someone to drop a body inside. The man lifted his flimsy body with ease, as if he were a rag doll thrown inside a toy box. The hole had been fashioned into a near perfect funnel, angling several feet below so that the body slid gently inside the earth. The last thing Colby saw were the bloodshot eyes of a madman who appeared to smile, his leathery skin caught in a permanent moment of angst, as he released him down the rabbit hole.

To say Colby was surprised, the moment he opened his email, would not fully justify the shear amount of bemusement that reflected from his face. The email spoke of his recent writings, his sudden interest in the undead and his public calling for the man seen in the film to come forth from the muddy banks of the Louisiana Bayou and face him. Not expecting, of course, to hear anything back from anyone, with the exception of those who humored his writings. The email header stated "From the office of Doctor Zombi" which immediately kick started his heart. Surely his blog had not found its way to Acredis Zombi himself. Before he considered the possibility of the email being a hoax or laced with some Trojan virus, he opened it.

A man of the cloth once said unto me 'any man faced with his own demise and laughed foolishly at the wicked, was either a damn fool or the bravest man I'd ever meet.'with some consideration I have concluded you to be a damn fool, but still a man I would like to meet. My offer, however, comes with some degree of secrecy. First, you come alone. Second, you write the story as I tell it and not how you feel it should be told. The details are below. A smart man would consider the alternative. 



Colby brought up his blog on the computer screen and checked the readership. It had nearly doubled since his last posting. Landing an interview with Doctor Zombi

He now stood at the door of room 36B. There was the faintest hint of sweat on his forehead, wiped clean with his hand as he began to knock on the door that opened before he had the chance to knock. The man before him was much taller than he had anticipated. Colby stood in the range of six foot three inches, and this man was easily a foot taller, his face marred by the top of the door, kept his identity, for the moment, a mystery.
     "Do come inside." he said turning from the door back into the poorly lit room.
Colby stepped inside noticing a peculiar smell in the air, which he could not quite place a finger upon. A point to remember that the man quickly detoured his attention from with the sudden flash of a match at the end of his hand-rolled cigarette.

     "Have a seat mister Kurtins. Our time together is limited, and I want to make sure we cover...everything."
Colby was understandably nervous. He sat and placed his notes in his laps, trying not to stare at the partially disfigured bits on the lamp lit side of his face. The room, for the most part, was dark and cold. The noise from the air-conditioning unit rumbled loudly, pushing freezing air and the smoke from Doctor Zombi's cigarette across the room. If the intent was to make the experience an uncomfortable one, Doctor Zombi was doing a fine job.

He blew a tight smoke ring from his lips, crossing his leg over the other, sinking back into the veil of shadows.
     "Your...opinion piece was...plagued with inconsistencies. A terrible consequence of projecting personal feelings towards something that can never be fully understood."

     "I'm sorry" Colby interrupted, "but if you could confirm that you are the Doctor Acredis Zombi."

The shadow was still and silent, enjoying another long pull from its cigarette.  "I believe my correspondence stated very clearly that our time Perhaps we can skip the obvious and venture instead down the road less traveled?"

His accent was not Cajun, but thick with what Colby suspected as Creole with a slight twang of French to his words, much like the man from the film. Swallowing the hesitation down, Colby referred to his notes and pressed on.
     "In the movie-"
     "I believe it was a documentary not a movie."
     "-um, yes. In the documentary, you are quoted as saying to the interviewer 'The Black Arts are much more than voodoo spells and wicked potions and shrunken heads.' which I tend to agree. My question, however, is-"
     "Everything comes down to interpretation, mister Kurtins. The spiritual aspect of the arts can have any number of ties to your...zombies. Which, in partial, is the reason I have asked you here today."
Colby was now the silent one. The fog of instant success was beginning to diminish. The odd smell flooded his senses and the interview had now taken on a different feel.
     "My post was not about Zombies, but the spike in today's society and how its culture, mythology, and new maniacal interest has changed how the cults behind it operated; specifically, those in Haiti. I do not understand how you have misconstrued the facts."
     "Ah, but I haven't. I have simply ignored them for the greater scheme of things. Explaining anything to you or to anyone for that matter, would take too much time and there is so little time for you to grasp such...cleansing of one's spirit. Do you recall how the gentleman from the film described me?"
Colby tired, but could not.
     "He said, 'The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind but staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole of his face refused to express emotions or react in any way that a man of the living might. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable of expression.' and he was right with his words; however, he refused to explain the reason for it. Regrettably, I allowed my anger to get the best of me, which, if I am not mistaken, comes across at the end of the film. I hope to rectify that today."

Doctor Zombi leaned into the light, reaching for another cigarette. His face was exactly how the unfortunate interviewer had told it. Remiss of life with its leathery appearance, wrinkled and grey as day old ash and peeling in places tattered and torn by the strain his mouth put on the rest of his face. There was some color to his face, which looked like blood stains but were ravaged blood vessels that cured like petrified wood under the sun, the longer they went without substance. Colby sprung back into his chair at the sight of Doctor Zombi. Part of him wanted to get up and storm out from the room, but the other part, the part which contained the logical foundation of his intelligence, reminded him how foolish of a concept the whole charade really was. This kind of disbelief in the unnatural state of things is what fascinated Doctor Zombi the most. He respected the human mind and the fleshy brain that contained it.

     "My apologies for my...lackadaisical appearance. I assume you to take me for some kind of fanatical zombie enthusiast in full on makeup, but, I assure you, this is a most unfortunate setback to the reality of my, shall we say, condition. A side-effect, if you will."

Colby was perplexed and at a loss for words. The interview had hastily moved from curious to intrigued to peeked fascination to confusion to fear, barreling down utterly incomprehensible and, at its current rate, would soon cross over into cathartic madness. It was just as the film suggested. The world's first documented Zombie was now gracing him with an exclusive interview.

Colby could not help but to chuckle. "I'm sorry Doctor Zombi, but if you are trying to say to me that you are in fact a real life, flesh eating, Zombie then I feel it my duty to inform you that you are not the first nor the last person to personify this dark lifestyle. I am sure you have heard of the rocker-"

     "If I had to try and sum it up for you, Mister Kurtins, I would suggest just the opposite to those you are familiar with."

This brought a sense of seriousness back to the interview. An unexpected twist to the story Doctor Zombi was so methodically constructing. Colby sat his notes aside and clasped his hands together, sitting them in his lap. He was beginning to understand how one could be so easily immersed inside this fantasy world. Doctor Zombi had a constant schtick that he had obviously spent a large amount of time in perfecting. He was good at what he did. Knowledgeable with the content and able to control the conversation through body language and subtle actions, such as the use of the light in the room and the lighting of his cigarette. It was evident to Colby his writings provided the necessary fodder for this type of behavior to continue. Thus he allowed the interview to continue as well.

    "Care to elaborate?"

Doctor Zombi exhaled. The smoke trailed into a spiraling funnel over his head. He considered his words carefully, finding in the silence a means to achieve what was needed, while getting out what others needed to know.

     "I shall tell you, but, in return, you will help me...continue with my mission." He said.
     "Sure. Why not."

This pleased Doctor Zombi, who eyed the small clock radio on the table next to him.  "In 1958, back in my homeland of Haiti, I had a wife and young son. We were happy and our bellies full night in and night out. Our community was what you consider, here in America, as lower income housing, but we all were one united family. Papa Doc Duvallier was in his second year of power, a crazed man whose thirst for blood was nearly as unquenchable as his thirst for power. He was a very bad man, who many believed also to be a powerful Witchdoctor. Many Haitians feared his private army more than his official army, because it was widely believed the Tonton Macoutes were not men among the living. They were ruthless killers who did Duvallier's every bidding without question, no matter how inhuman or vicious the order. These Thugs For Hire were also hard to kill.  In June of 1960, a civil dispute broke out among the people of Haiti and Papa Doc Duvallier's regime. He sent his private army into Port-Au-Prince to rid the uprising quietly...I was among the rebels during this time."

He paused to reach for another cigarette. His hand trembled and struggled to hold the lighter, which Colby assisted him with taking the lighter from his cold frail hand lighting the cigarette. Colby found himself hooked into the story, no matter how off-kilter it was. Had he been part of this rebellion in 1960, he would have needed to be in his teens. The fact compiled with the current time-frame would make him out to be in his 70's and, makeup aside, his body musculature and shape was not that of a man of this age.

     "Thank you. My condition can be bothersome when it starts to degenerate."

     "You were telling me of the rebellion."

     "Ah, yes. I am not sure you could even call it that. The Tonton Macoutes were heavily armed with automatic weapons and explosives, where we were workers of trade. A few farmers had joined us, but pitchforks are not very effective, unless you are sending a lynch mob after Frankensteins Monster." Doctor Zombi said with a chortle.

     "There is not much more I can add to that, other than I can conclude that our efforts were quashed by the might of the undead army."

     "You call them the undead army, because of the myths?"

     "I call them the undead army, Mister Kurtins, because I became one of them. Albeit, my memory does not contain the process of how, but it does provide me glimpses of the aftermath. But that is not important, not anymore. You need only know that Papa Doc Duvallier was exactly whom we thought him to be. A God among men, who has served the underworld dutifully and emphatically without question, and I along with him."
     "So you mean to say that his victims, those he slaughtered, were then transformed into mindless slaves within the ranks of his private military?"

     "Wi. The process of Zombification removes all conscious thought from the brain, draining the body of its soul and removing any chance of it regaining its humanity. The cannibalism, the act of eating human remains, began as instinctual but soon became cult-like. It was believed to have been the point of awakening."
     "Partial consciousness, like in the recent movies about zombies being a kind of New Breed of human?"
     "Wi. Kadav la Living, or The Living Corpse. A practice that dates as far back as Hedonistic Rome, when they would eat the hearts of their enemies-"
     "To gain their strength...yes, it has been done several times in movies, comics, and other outlandish mediums. So, eating humans is brain food for the dead, I get it."

Colby's response did not settle well with his host. His words became heated and spiteful, an act that reminded him who was in control of the interview.

     "I do not take kindly to your patronizing, Mister Kurtins. I mention this act of eating the flesh to explain its origins and how it ties into this culture you speak of outside. The awakening is very rare. Not even Papa Duvallier could piece together the functionality of it or why it even exist. You may not wish to believe in the walking dead, but that doesn't make their existence any less of a reality. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. To live, one must die. This is not a one-sided forgone conclusion, it is quite circular.

Living and dying is easy. The hard part is the transition between the two. Voodoo has always been a kind of cerebral bridge between the living and the dead, its juju being the foundation of the bridge and the mind of the Witchdoctor on the end of it the constant variable. Duvallier understood the power of juju, but failed to ever cross over. Not because he did not wish to do so, you understand, but because he saw the advantage of keeping the lines open. You cannot kill that which is already dead. An army of undead was far more effective than recruiting a living one. I, however, happened to be the anomaly Papa never saw. How could he? I do not even understand my own existence myself." Doctor Zombi leaned closer to Colby reaching out and touching his leg for added affect, "But, as you can feel, I am very much alive."

     "You mention Witchdoctors being the constant variable between the living and the dead. Can you elaborate on this more?" His words no longer sounded authentic. Instead they felt patronizing, wrapped in ridicule and package with sarcasm.
     "It's just a title much like Priest, Pastors, Clerics, and rabbis. A Witchdoctor possesses something that none of these other spiritual leaders can have, a graveyard's worth of lost souls that he can manipulate like puppets on the end of a string. At least that is the way things used to be. Now, the playing field has changed because I am in it. Hundreds of years worth of dancing along a fine line with the Devil himself, reanimating the dead and toying with creation all in the name of immortality. I have become the evolution of juju...I am Zombie." Doctor Zombi smiled at this last part, his hands raised above his head as though an audience applauded his every word.

Doctor Zombi eyed Colby suspiciously. His face was riddled with strain as he held back the laughter. It occurred to him then that his guest was mocking his every word, just as the other had before him. Respecting the living was becoming more and more difficult.

     "Well then, this has all been really interesting and I promise to write my next piece very soon. You mentioned that the post must be done under your terms, can you tell me more of what those terms are?"

There was a slight delay in his answering. He had yet to speak on his breakthrough in returning the color back to his flesh and how he would no longer have to hide behind the scrutiny of the living and its make-believe reality of film. The living had taken his existence, both as a man and a walking corpse in his death, but no more.
     "I am very pleased you ask."

Doctor Zombi emerged from his shadows with lightning quick movement, allowing only enough time for Colby to gasp, before feeling the crushing grab of Doctor Zombi's cold hands. His touch was like dry ice against Colby's skin. The muscles ached as he attempted to resist the advancement of the large Haitian. His human strength unrivaled by that of the Witchdoctor and self-proclaimed dead man. The momentum sent them both over end in the chair onto the floor. The smell of cigarette smoke rushed up through Colby's nose mixing with the cool dryness already in the air. This was the moment he realized what he smelled was that of freshly dug dirt. He then felt the sting on his shoulder and nothing more.

Colby opened his eyes. The cavern was lit only by firelight from torches set in the walls around him. He attempted to move but could not, thinking he must still be suffering the effect of the sting. His assumption was replaced by the upsetting reality of the strangely warm muddy cocoon he had been submerged inside. Instinctively, he screamed, pleading for someone, anyone, to help him.

     "Survival instincts have always amazed me, while leaving me with a litany of questions afterward. Such as, why did so many signs have to unveil before such an instinct activate." Doctor Zombi said, striking a match to light a cigarette.

     "Please, let me go! I will not say anything to anyone. I swear to God!"

     "I actually believe that you would do exactly as you say you would, Mister Kurtins. The problem with that is we have now gone beyond negotiations. I tried to keep things professional between us, truly I did. But your demeanor in my telling of my life lead to pent up humility that, to be honest with you, rubbed me the wrong way. Now, had this been six months ago, I would have simply snapped your neck, torn the flesh from your ugly mouth with my teeth and feast upon your brains, just as you expect of me...just as I did to Mister Collins and his crew. But I am not like the others. My awakening gave me back a piece of my roots, reminding me of a time when the poison that courses through my empty shell of a body was not there, slowly eating away at my soul until I was nothing more than a mindless corpse in some madman's army.
I was hoping that I could reach beyond the confines of my underground coffin. In hopes that my words might reach the one thing still alive inside of me."

Colby found himself again, inside the cocoon. Hoping his sympathy would mean something to the man before him.

     "Your family. The one Papa Doc Duvallier took from you all those years ago. You wish for a means to connect with them, with a voice among the living. I understand."

Doctor Zombi lowered his head. Had he any tear ducts, he would have shed an oceans worth of tears for the woman he so loved and the son they shared together. His hopes were dashed by the living's disrespectful approach, and thus deserved the alternative.

     "Kapab jwenn ou, Bondye, tout kote ou ale." He said in Creole, and then "We shall see, Mister Kurtins."

Colby watched through watery eyes as Doctor Zombi fought with himself. He could see by his body language that whatever decision he had come to did not settle well with the human part of his consciousness he had recovered with his awakening. He never learned that once an awakening took over the dead, the effects could be countered by further acts of zombification. Decimating the interviewer and his camera crew was the beginning of a long road ahead. In order to heal the flesh, he needed to first heal the soul. And his soul was battered and saturated with the blood of his fellow man. Fortunately, there was another way to reach them, without any assistance from the living. At least, not in the traditional sense.

The monster inside him, the one Papa Doc Duvallier created, reared its ugly head. His belly ached with an emptiness that only flesh could subside, and fighting the urge only made the pain all the more unbearable. Had the man listened with the same eagerness of his writing, the beast would have remained buried and the man, wrapped in his mud cocoon would not be here. He would be safely back home, writing at his desk and increasing the flow of traffic to his blog. If only...
Anger flooded his psyche and for a brief moment he lost control, lashing out and biting into the side of the young man's face, leaving behind a mauled blood soaked cheek that flapped over the side of his face.
His screams echoed the cavern and up through the tunnel in which he had fallen down. Room 36B was silent throughout. The hole that had been dug previously was once more filled. With the floor patched and the carpeting laid, it was though no one was ever there and in a sense this was true. Only Colby Kurtins notes remained behind.

Once the sun dipped behind the horizon and night unraveled like a painter's sheet across the floor of eternity, the Motel quietly faded into the darkness. Only Colby's car remained, off the road in the middle of a desert landscape, which would likely end up in a repo yard as evidence to a missing person's case that would go unsolved. He would become yet another cold case, filed away in a very long drawer in some warehouse. All that would remain of him would be the blog that started it all. Some time later, in a graveyard well beyond the desert, a lonely grave lay wedged between to freshly dug graves, the dirt from each one collected in a waist high mound next to them. A makeshift headstone sat at the head of the grave with several strands of glossy beads, each one a different color that coiled around a feathered boa and a metal Fleur-de-lis. Five words, written in Creole had been painted on the face of the headstone in chicken's blood. Yo viv, youn dwe mouri, "To live, one must die." Doctor Zombi was adamant about this being a circular argument. In time, this would be put to the test.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Room 969: Things Left Behind

Venice, the newest addition to the Motel housekeeping staff, opened the door to room 969 and switched on the light. She stood in silent consternation at the perfectly cleaned room before her. It was not unusual for guests to tidy up the room before checking out, or not dirty up the room at all say for a trash bin, a service tray with remnants of the continental breakfast or a change of linens. The curious thing about it was how the desk clerk had mentioned to her in passing how her first shift would start with a bang, explaining to her that the room was checked out the night before by a band of, "Hoodlums with a few six packs of beer and devious looks to their underage faces." Expecting the worse, a pleasant easy smile came to her face.

She left her cart outside the room, butting it against the door so that it would not fully shut behind her. The room was shockingly pristine, nothing was out of its place. The bed linens had no creases, the towels still hung on their ringers, even the mint remained on the pillow. A quick sweep of the room confirmed nothing had been disturbed and so she decided to move along to the next room, when she noticed a drawer in the bedside table partially opened. As she went to shut it, she noticed something inside that glimmered with the faintest glow. She stuck two fingers in the crack of the drawer and eased it out. Inside was a small pistol resting atop an envelope. Venice, never one to snoop where her nose did not belong, started to close the drawer back,but policy dictated that she report whenever weapons or "out of place" suitcases were found or spotted. She reached for her walkie-talkie and called for her supervisor. 

     "And there is nothing else "odd" about the room?"
     "No. Just the gun, and there is an envelope. I think there is something bulky in the envelope too."
     "Don't leave the room. I will send up security to retrieve it." the throaty smokers voice replied on the other end.

Venice sat on the edge of the bed, staring into the drawer at the gun that had no place there in the room with her. She had never liked guns, ever since she was a young girl, when her older brother had accidentally shot himself while cleaning their father's shotgun. It wasn't supposed to be loaded, she remembered her father telling the authorities. He would have been 26, her brother, in a few months. The gun reached deep into her heart and tore at its strings. She lent down to close the drawer, her hand hesitated as she pulled it back as though she had touched a hot stove, covering her mouth to catch a gasp. Her heart started to race in her chest, reaching for the bedside light. The incandescent light flooded the inside of the drawer. She leaned over the top of the drawer and looked inside. She could just make out the writing.


She turned for the door, the footsteps of someone approaching echoed outside. Venice reached into the drawer on impulse alone, lifted the gun and removed the envelope, sticking it beneath the pillow, returning the gun back inside the drawer. The security guard stepped inside the room and asked if she was all right, as she directed him to the drawer. He looked inside, raised a bushy brow with mild interest and then looked to Venice puzzled, and a touch peeved. 
     "Management said something about a gun? This hardly constitutes as a weapon, Venice, although I am sure you could put some one's eye out, if you tried." the Guard said showing her the wooden rubber-band gun. 

The toy was not similar in any way to the metallic one she had seen just moments before. Silver in color with four barrels and a mahogany grip, whatever it was the guard showed her was simply impossible. She tried to retain the same color to her cheeks, but knew he could see the embarrassment all about her face. 

     "I...I guess it's still early for me."
     "Probably left behind by some little snot-nosed kid. I say good, one less troublemaker to have to point out to obviously careless parents who allow such a thing to begin with." he said. 

And that was that. The Guard left without another word, oblivious to the young housekeepers concern as well as the ghostly face that watched him leave the room from the bathroom mirror, its face riddle with dread and misery and weeping pleas that fell deaf on the ears of the living.

Venice sat still on the bed. She knew she was not crazy, and clearly the guard had seen something other than a loaded weapon, which he took with him, leaving her alone with her thoughts and the envelope that itched against her balmy skin. She reached into her blouse and pulled the envelope out, sitting it in her lap. Think, Venice. Ten minutes ago, she was just beginning her shift and now she sits on the edge of a bed questioning her sanity.  I will just open the letter and likely find someone playing a joke on me, she thought and she slipped her finger under the lip, ripping it open. Inside were four bullets, three silver and one gold.
     "Have you ever gambled?" a voice said from behind her.

Shaken by the sudden presence in the room, Venice jumped from the bed, spilling the bullets onto the floor. Her first instinct was to scream, but the being, sprawled out on the bed before her, instantly removed this fear replacing it with a vexing grip of disbelief. What she saw was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes upon, with skin like ivory and eyes of pearls, smiling at her with razor like fangs that just as well tear into her flesh than to speak. The sight of the strange man excited her, and this was far more frightening to her than his sudden appearance.

     "Who are you?"
     "Someone with an offer, which you are free to decline if my offering does not please you."
     "What kind of an offer?"

The man reached out his hand and opened it. In the palm were the four bullets she had dropped earlier. "One of second chances. But, know that second chances do not come without a cost."
Venice eyed the door. It was though the man was inside her head, his voice creeping into her subconscious reminding her that her choice to leave was always open.

     "Are you the Devil?"

The question seemed to offend the man. He sprung up from the bed and sent her reeling back against a wall.

     "Do you see a long pointed tail on me?" He snapped. "No," he turned and opened the bedside drawer, "Lucy and I go way back, but I am far from perfect. But enough about me, lets talk games."
Intrigued, Venice listened.

The man spoke of hurtful memories, about the passing of her brother so long ago, about the regret she had buried deep inside her heart...about the secret she had kept from her father all these years, even as he lay dying on his deathbed. Venice could not help but to cry. Whoever the man was, he knew far more than she wanted anyone to know.

     "Don't fret, dear child," he said wiping away a tear with a finger and licking it with his tongue. "What I offer you is a chance to make amends for the past." He pulled the gun she had seen from the drawer and placed it on the bed, searching the pillow for the mint.
     "How so?" She asked tearfully.
The man unwrapped the mint and placed the tiny chocolate in his mouth, chewing slowly, methodically, so that his thoughts could properly unravel inside his mischievous mind. "I figure an eye for an eye, makes the regretful girl cry. One bullet to the brain, should make it all go away, be it your life or your life's biggest mistake."
     "A life for a life."
     "Now you're getting it. Sound fun?"
     "How do you play?"
     "I point and pull the trigger three times. If lady luck is on your side, the pretty little gold one will not fire. If not, I give you your brother back. All is forgiven...or, you can simply leave now and this all will never have happened."
     "Why me?"
     "Why not you?"
The man loaded the gun and took aim at her. This was crazy. Surely she was just dreaming and any moment now the alarm was going to sound and she was going to wake for her first day on the job. After all, this was too outrageous not to be a dream, why not play along?

In the burning fires of hell a soul dashed through towering flames, the skin bubbling and peeling away from the bone, the pain searing deep inside the empty shell of its waning spirit, towards the closing portal. The hands of the damned reached and scratched at his tenderized flesh, screaming obscenities, begging for mercy, for some kind of relief from the constant hellfire licking at their feet. The portal looked into the eyes of infinity and the soul felt it could not push itself beyond any further, reaching for the inspiration that freed it from its hell. There would not be another waste of life, no matter how much He wished it. Her innocence took the kindred soul by the hand and thrust it forward through the portal, into the spiral of flames and closer to the shiny window that offered escape from this place. To hell with the devil, the soul said and raced onward. 

POW! The gunshot echoed the room and, for a moment, Venice could not feel her heart inside her chest. Her lungs had held that last breath, realizing what she heard was the extent of the danger to her. A blank. One down, two to go. The man grinned. He ran his slithery tongue across his teeth. Patience was a skill in his field not easily mastered. Luckily for him, however, he was the master of his own destiny.

The whole of Venice desperately shouted to her subconscious to wake up, wake up now before this bazaar dream turned into a fatal nightmare. Somewhere, somehow, she had agreed with the man to partake in such a deadly game. And she wanted to run, but her limbs were numb to everything, resisting the temptation of a smoking barrel just inches from her face.
     "If you are not the Devil, then who are you?"
The man pondered this, and then sat the gun on his lap.
     "If I were to tell you, I would have to kill you." he said with a chortle.

He took the gun back in hand and took aim. "Speaking of which..." He pulled the trigger and the gun fired again. Her reaction to the gunshot was nearly as violent as if her brain now housed the golden bullet, falling back against the wall and bursting into tears. The rush of adrenaline had subsided. She now could not deny her feelings, the immense fear and terror she felt, were very real and this was, by far, the most frightened she had ever been. She shook to the point of convulsing, eying the smoking gun. The odds, it seemed, were in her favor and yet she felt as though she had met the end of her rope.

     "Ooh, how exciting!" the man gushed.
     "Please. I do not want to do this anymore. Someone wake me up, just wake me up please!"
     "Tell me, Venice. Do you remember that tragic day? When we first met?"

Venice was instantly transported from the room, her ghostly spirit now stood in the background and watched a little girl take the shotgun in her hands and run into her room, placing it onto the bed. She climbed up on the bed and eyed the weapon. From across the room, an arm pushed aside a stuffed Elephant and a dolly her mother had given her for her seventh birthday, walking across the shag carpet floor and climbed up onto the bed with her. It opened its hand and revealed to her the shells, with a stitched smile that was wide and overtly deviant for even a stuffed ape. Her face was now full of surprise. She had lived with that choice for more than a decade, branded by the doctor as traumatic child psychosis, brought on by the loss of her brother and the horror of witnessing it firsthand. The stuffed monkey had been real, as real as anything since and just as real as the gun pointed at her face.

     "That was you?" she asked choked up by her tears.

The man hunched his shoulders and sneered at her farcically. His role had always bordered with good and evil, right and wrong, angelic and demonic. He did not question this, nor would he. His tricks had always brought him great satisfaction, the moment his victims realized he had been with them throughout the process, laughing at them from the cold shadows at the guilt their actions manifested within. He had made a mockery of their regrets and mistakes and the more tragic each one was the better he felt about it.

     "But, why? I was just a little girl you bastard!" she wanted to lash out at the man, tear into his perfection with her nails and strip the beauty of his lie down to the scaly truth hidden beneath the surface. It did not matter what or who he was to her, because she had already decided it to be beastly and evil. Clearly she was not dreaming, for nothing so sinister and calculated could have been conjured up by her mind, and she could not have been awake for this was not a Motel but rather her own personal hell.

The soul plunged upward through the fires, its flesh and bone had lost the fight against the demons standing in its way, but the battle raged on. The mirror gate was just within its reach now, expelling all that remained of its spirit, breaking through to the other side. 

 Venice had started to lower her head, a distant voice had told her luck was never meant to last in these kinds of games, and she had decided that all was for naught. Maybe she would wake up and find herself in another place and time, or maybe she would never wake at all, relieving this moment forever.

     "Loki!" the voice shouted all around the room. It was very distant, almost ethereal, but enough that it caught the man's attention. "Loki!" the voice called out again. The man became infuriated, pointing the gun wildly around him and cursing in all direction.
     "Not possible! You do not just get up and leave like that. Besides, you're too late. She has agreed and I believe we are do a pull of the trigger."

Loki aimed the gun and attempted to squeeze the trigger, but felt a resistance fighting him. And now the table had turned and it was he who questioned things. One did not simply leave Hell, especially when the damned had committed a Cardinal Sin. There had never been any second chances and he was not about to allow one now.
     "Begone! Back to your cage of damnation and await the arrival of your sister, demon!"

Venice watched in blank bemusement. He mind had fizzled out, finding the energy to reboot itself and piece together what was unfolding, what had happened and how she ended up here in the now. That was the moment she made a startling discovery. In an instant, the war inside her took pause retuning her back to her body, where she stood in front of the bathroom mirror, beaming at her reflection whom held the gun against her head. The two realities had blended into one. On one side, a woman riddled with guilt who had lost her composure, her sanity as it were, at some point. Perhaps at the discovery of the gun, or maybe she had been clinically insane all along, just as the doctor had diagnosed years before. The hurt, the anger, the distrust and the lies that culminated to the front of her consciousness. It was identical to the guilt ridden woman in the mirror, but it wasn't Her. It was just another of Loki's tricks.

She looked at the snickering woman in the mirror and screamed as the trigger finally gave in to demand, firing the bullet through the barrel into her brain. The mirror instantly shattered all around her, leaving an empty hallow where the long mirror once had been. Venice woke in a flood of light. She felt the warm hand of someone touch her on the shoulder, turning to the youthful loving smile of her brother. He was smiling. It reminded her of long ago, having the best smile she had seen on another face not her own. They each gazed into the others eyes, refusing to ruin a moment with words that could never live up to what an eternity of love could do in a gentle smile. He nodded to her and turned back to the light. His wings brought a permanent solace that would stick with her.

Venice sprung up from the bed at the touch of the Security Guards hand.
     "Are you all right?"
She was back in the room now. Nothing was out of its place, just as it had been the moment she opened the door. She looked around for some sign, anything that might explain her reason for apparently napping on the job. She opened the bedside table and found the standard bible waiting for whomever was interested in its teachings. She got up from the bed, addressing her slip and blushing.
     "First day and already fighting the early mornings." She said hurriedly.
She rose from the bed, smoothing out the wrinkles in the sheets and quickly stepped outside. She felt rested and curiously relieved, like some heavy burden had been lifted from her shoulders. She could not quite place a finger on it, but decided it was best not to question such a nice feeling. She pushed her cart along to the next room and started her workday with a little more pep in her step. She reached into her pocket for the master key and felt something cold and round. She pulled the gold bullet from her pocket and stared at it. She shrugged and then returned the bullet back to her pocket.

The Security Guard stepped out from the room, noticing the indiscrepancy in the room's number that brought a chuckle up from his fattened jowls to the surface. Of all the rooms, he thought, turning both nines to their original positions that flanked the six on either side. Room 666 was once again vacant, and yet filled to capacity with all the things left behind.