"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.
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 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!"
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.