Maria hated hotels. She especially hated hotels when she was with her husband and the White Grand in San Antonio was no exception.
Faded pink brick covered the outside with ribbon-like ivory trim along the tall, arched windows. The windows were tinted with a shiny black in order to hold in the secrets of the White Grands most reticent guests. There were 28 floors. Maria and her husband, Harper, were staying on the 27th floor.
Maria held her champagne glass against her chest, occasionally rubbing it against the sequins of her dress. She knocked it back, the golden alcohol running down her throat and causing a tingling shiver to break up her spine. Her eyes kept sliding towards her husband in narrow, angry slits. She couldn’t help it. She had seen him, speaking in seductive whispers with that red-haired bitch that worked in accounting. He couldn’t have held it in his pants, not even for her firms holiday party.
“Are you going to keep throwing daggers? Or are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” Harper muttered, the rocky elevator and the glasses of scotch causing him to stagger forwards.
“Nothing’s bothering me,” Maria said, hearing the slur in her words. Her tongue was fat and heavy, each sentence was like lifting a loaded barbell. “I had a good time. Did you?”
Harper rolled his eyes and said, “sure.”
Shrugging off her annoyance and her question.
The elevator doors slid open, a rush of cold air billowed around Maria’s ankles. The White Grand was old, cold and wind got inside as easily as the mice did. But it was historical, a relic, a falling-apart, marble-covered shithole. Maria would have much preferred a Radisson or a Hilton to this decrepit hovel.
So now, not only was Maria in a hotel that she hated but she was with a man that was cheating on her, a man who could care less about her feelings even after 8 years of marriage.
As they stepped out of the elevator and down the hall, she threw the empty champagne glass. It smashed next to Harper’s ugly shiny shoes. Glass exploded in every direction, immediately blending into the design on the criss-cross navy and gold carpet.
“Bastard.” Maria didn’t yell, she simply let it slide off of her cumbersome tongue.
“Jesus Christ, Maria!” Harper stumbled backwards, crunching pieces of glass. “How much champagne did you have?”
“How much champagne did you give to Linda? Enough to get her to suck you off in the bathroom?”
Harper rolled his eyes again, apathetic. Not yet willing to admit his wrong-doings but certainly willing to admit that he didn’t care about what she did, wrong or not.
“Can you just wait until we get to the room at least?” He hissed.
“Of course, honey! I would hate to embarrass you in front of everyone.” Maria opened her arms to the empty hallway of framed white doors and brass numbers. Then she stomped past him, her stilettos biting down onto the scattered glass, walking through the minefield of shards, not caring if they cut through the bottoms of her shoes and into her nylon socks.
She got to Room 2712, swiped her key in the door and shoved it open as soon as the light flashed green.
“God, it stinks in here.” Maria kicked off her shoes, the shiny black heels flew in the air and then rolled until they hit the plaster wall. The stiletto sticking straight up into the air like a spike trap at the bottom of an Indiana Jones booby trap.
Behind her, Harper caught the door before it slammed in his face, just stopping the wood from crushing his fingers.
“Grateful for the extra money I spent… as always,” Harper said, the sarcasm taking up all the space in the small room. He grabbed the ‘do not disturb’ sign from the inside side of the doorknob and hung it from the outside like he was a ring girl crossing through the wrestling arena with a sign that said ‘round 1.’
“Oh yes. I am so grateful for you, Harper. I am so grateful for your ability to flirt with women right in front of me.” Maria pulled her dress down, the sequins scratching at her torso and her armpits. “But don’t worry, you got me a suite. Let me just get down on my knees because you paid an extra twenty dollars for a nice room.”
Maria laughed; a loud, satirical laugh with her mouth wide open.
Harper loosened his tie and undid the top button on the white shirt that was under his maroon suit. Maria had picked out every single piece of clothing he was wearing except for his shoes; he had chosen those hideously tan wing-tipped Derbys himself. And had he thanked her for packing everything? For literally, putting the shirt on his back? Of course not. Unless you counted him sticking his tongue in Linda’s ear as a thank you.
Maria walked around the room, unable to sit, unable to think straight. She opened every curtain, extending the hotel room into the starless city skyline beneath them.
Harper had already closed the door to the bathroom, unable to spend more than a few minutes in the same room as his wife. The door was a red-brown wood and covered in small nicks shaped like downturned crescent moons. There was a ripping sound and then, like glass marbles had been dropped onto tile.
“Shit.” Harper called from beyond the door.
“What?” Maria called back, not waiting for a response and opening the door to the bathroom. Harper had his suit half-off, his black hair sticking up one side. The shower curtain, an unnecessarily thick piece of fabric, was hanging down, halfway off the shower rings. Harper had pulled on it much too hard and ripped it from the painted gold ovals that were holding it up.
Maria shook her head at him.
“Good thing you paid extra,” she muttered.
“For Christ’s sake, the whole reason it ripped was because I was angry with you, Maria!” Harper yelled, looking down at the pieces of shower rings that were sprinkled inside the bathtub and on the tile floor.
“Please, Harper. Are you just going to continue to blame me for everything that you’ve done?” Maria shouted back, the indignation boiling under her skin as she tightened her hands into fists.
“It’s these cheap-ass shower rings. They just snapped as soon as I pulled it.” Harper threw up his hands, kicking one of the broken rings with his bare foot.
Maria bent down and picked up one of the rings. It was some type of sanded plastic and all of them had split in the same spot, right in the middle where the two flared bases connected. She turned it over in her hand, the paint was beginning to chip off and underneath was a bright white surface that Maria couldn’t identify. She threw it at Harper, it bounced off his chest and rebounded into the bathtub.
“I’ll call the front desk,” Maria said and turned from the bathroom, the train of her gown trailing behind her and picking up a couple of the broken shower rings, dragging them onto the carpet.
If Harper wanted to take off his suit and erase this night as soon as possible then Maria would let him. But she would keep on her gown until the very last possible minute, so her husband would know exactly what he was going to be missing out on tonight. Every curve, every line of cleavage, every stroke of lipstick would be saved for appreciation elsewhere.
One of the windows was open.
Had it been open when she had drawn the curtains?
A cold December draft stimulated the curtains, moving the chiffon in twisty waves of white. She let it be open. Perhaps the cold would shrink Harper’s balls to the size of peas.
She switched on the lamp that sat on the bedside table, her hand brushing against the yellow shade. After picking up the cream-coloured phone, Maria noticed the numbers were covered in black smudges. She scowled down at them, wishing she had brought her disinfectant wipes.
The line was dead.
She hung up the phone and picked it up again.
Maria hurled the phone down, shaking the entire table, the chain from the lamp chiming against the shade.
“Phone’s broken,” Maria called to the bathroom. Harper stood in the doorway, his suit pants still on but his shirt and shoes off. “This is what happens when you choose a 150 year old hotel.”
“I didn’t choose this place, Maria. Your firm did.”
The open window bounced against the frame, opening and closing in time with the wind.
“And you were so impressed,” Maria murmured, watching Harper cross the room to the open window. He shivered in front of it, his abdominal muscles flexing, his fingers pulsing. He pulled at the brass handle in the middle of the window closing one side and then reaching for the other.
But when he reached for the other pane of glass, it wouldn’t close.
The frame bounced off and swung back into the outside, reflecting scattered city lights of yellow and blue into the room.
He tried again.
It bounced back out for a second time.
“What the hell?” Harper growled. He ran his fingers around the window frame. “There’s a nail here. What a feat of engineering.”
“A nail?” Maria stood from the bed, the wooden posts squeaking. She smoothed out her dress and took one step forward but did not go any closer. Not because she was scared of a damn nail but because she really didn’t want to be that close to the cheating bastard right now.
“Yea.” Harper nodded and leaned out the window.
How easy it would be to push him out.
Goosebumps erupted over his shoulders and down his arms. He yelled from outside, “there’s something hanging from it.”
“Just pull it off and let it drop.”
“It feels heavy. It could kill someone if it dropped from this height.”
“Linda hopefully,” Maria replied. Harper said nothing but she was sure he had heard her.
Harper leaned back inside, a bright orange ratchet strap in his hands. He began to pull the strap up, wrapping it around his elbow and wrist in a stiff oval.
“You know,” Harper grunted. “We didn’t do anything.”
“Sure. Not here.”
“Anywhere. Linda and I have done nothing. You’re being paranoid.” He yanked and exhaled hard.
“And Tilly, the slut at your office, you’ve never done anything with her either. Right, Harper?” Maria crossed her arms over her chest.
Harper paused his pulling and looked back at his wife. She swayed from side to side, the champagne working through her veins and filling her with confidence. She had seen the texts, the emails, the eye-witness accounts; she knew everything about Tilly. She even knew what she looked like spread out naked on the down comforter Maria had bought last year at Macys.
“That was…” Harper turned back to the window and started pulling again. “Can we talk about this when we get home? Christ, I can’t deal with you when you’re like this.”
There was a squishing knock against the wall.
Whatever Harper was pulling up was almost at the top.
“Yup. I’m the bad guy, Harper!” Maria threw her hands up and turned her back to him. “You’re a fucking saint, sent from heaven that can do no wrong except if a twenty year old walks in with a short skirt on.”
There was a sudden thunk against the carpet.
“Oh my god,” Harper whispered.
“Or was it the v-necks? I can’t imagine having to-”
“Maria, for fucks sake.”
Maria turned around and on the carpet, rolling onto its side was a human head. A blonde man’s severed head, his mouth open and frozen, revealing white frosty teeth. His eyes wide and glassy that had once been blue but, with a layer of ice overtop, now looked silver. The ratchet strap had been strung through his open mouth to his nostril, squishing the front of his mouth in. His teeth had been caved in, his skin squished down, in order to fit the black s-hook through each orifice.
In a panic, Maria ran to the phone again.
She picked it up, screamed and cracked it back down.
“What the hell? Oh my god. Who is that?” Maria brought her hands to her face, her manicured nails cupping her chin, wanting to cover her eyes but she couldn’t peel them away from the frozen head in front of her.
Harper rushed over to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
“Okay… okay. Let’s get downstairs. We’ll get the front desk to call the-”
There was a crunch under Harper’s feet as he stepped closer to her. He picked up his leg and peered downwards at one of the shower rings that had been dragged out of the bathroom by Maria’s gown. The sequins had rubbed off more of the cheap gold paint, revealing white plastic underneath.
Harper picked it up and turned it over in his hand.
“This isn’t… plastic,” Harper whispered, turning the shower ring over and over again.
And both of them realized, as they followed the trail of shower rings leading back to the bathroom, that the reason they had snapped so easily was because they were not plastic, nor metal but they were bones from someone’s fingers, glued together into an oval and spray painted gold.
Maria slapped the ring out of Harper’s hand, it flew across the room, landing in the open mouth of the severed head.
Maria screamed again, high-pitched and spine-chilling.
Her hands came up over her face as she jumped up onto the bed like the floor was made of coal and poison.
The window clapped shut. The nail snapping off the frame and ricocheting back into the room. The ratchet strap broke off from the nail and flopped across the carpet in front of the bed.
Then, the lights shut off.
The darkness clamped around both of them, a blanket of black pushing into their eyes.
“Harper.” Maria whimpered.
The light flashed on.
Harper was on the ground, lying down.
No, not lying down. Stretched out on his stomach, his arms and legs spread, his chin flat on the ground. His mouth pulled open like he was the grand prize from a hunting trip. Torso and legs drained of his innards, leaving him deflated and flat against the ground. And his eyes, replaced by shiny black plastic.
The lights turned off again.
Then back on and Harper was standing beside her.
Maria didn’t even have the time to scream.
Her heart laboured in her chest, pressing against her chest, threatening to burst out of her. All of the anger she’d had collapsed into fear. Pure, unadulterated terror. And when she looked around the room, the fear made her perceptive, she noticed much more than she had in her clouded, angry drunkenness.
The doorknob that led back out to the hallway was the ball joint of a knee.
The bathroom door, with the down-turned crescent moons, were rows upon rows of fingernails.
The bedposts were painted femurs and the pointed tops were cut nipples.
The yellow lamp shade was human skin, stitched together.
And as Maria looked down at the reddened pads of her fingers, she knew that the black smudges on the phone had been blood.
She leaned back to faint but Harper caught her, pulling her back upwards and shaking her.
“Maria. Come on, please.” He shook her again. “We have to get out of here.”
Maria wasn’t sure if the light had turned off again or if she was just slinking into unconsciousness. All that surrounded her was black and the sound of her hammering heart.
The smell awoke her. Her eyes opened, she knew they were open and straining but the light was, in fact, off again. The damp smell that she had sniffed on her way into the room was stronger now, like a great wall of stench that reeked of rotting wet garbage.
She coughed. Harper gagged.
At least he hadn’t yet abandoned her.
Then, the phone rang.
The red light flickered, lighting up the room with strobing streaks of neon crimson.
“Don’t answer it,” Harper whispered.
It rang again, this time angrily.
“What if it’s the front desk?” Maria whispered back as if someone was eavesdropping.
“The phone was dead, remember? You tried it twice.” Harper clamped a hand down on to Maria’s leg and she jumped.
The red lit up the room again as the phone rang for a third time.
Maria clambered forwards and before Harper could protest again, she picked up the receiver.
On the other end of the phone, a recording was playing. Distorted voices yelled and screamed in the background.
“Hello? Please help us. We’re in room 2712 and there’s… someone has been killed. Maybe many…”
Maria let out a small cry as a gruff voice replied. It was a woman’s voice, wry and ghoulish but a human voice nonetheless.
“What are they saying?” Harper called from behind her.
The light from the phone casted over Maria’s chin and lips, leaving her in a egg-shaped glow of red in the inky black room.
“Would you like me to kill him?” The voice asked. “My husband cheated on me.”
“Who? Wh-” Maria cleared her throat. “What did you do?”
“He’s in the pillows.”
The voice cackled, the recording still playing in the back, the voices slowly becoming more clear. It was her and Harper, screaming at one another. It was their argument from the elevator, the hallway, the smashing champagne glass, on a grainy loop. And listening to it now, Maria expected regret and anguish but instead, it slowed her pounding heart and eased the sweat on the back of her knees.
“Just call for room service, dear. I could use a new throw rug.”
The line went dead. The woman’s voice, Harper’s voice, Maria’s voice all fading back into silence.
The light turned back on.
Harper was still sitting on the bed, leaning forward and staring with wide brown eyes at his wife. A tear escaped down his cheek and he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
He grabbed Maria’s wrist and pulled her to her feet. She felt another shower ring, come up and in between her toes. A shiver travelled up from the sole of her foot to the base of her neck. Harper looked back at her and as he did so, the top of his foot caught on the orange ratchet strap and he went tumbling forward. The head rolled forwards, pulled by the strap and the weight of Harper’s foot.
His knees went down first, slamming into the carpet like heavy rocks; his hips crashed down and then his chin.
His face came down on to Maria’s upturned heel that she kicked off earlier and the stiletto cut through his lip, up his cheek and into his eye.
Harper screamed. His turn for a spine-chilling one.
Blood spurted out as he blinked, streaming out onto the carpet in front of him like his eye was a squirt gun filled with thick cardinal liquid. Maria bounded around his strewn body and bent down in front of him.
“Get away!” He screamed, covering his eye with his hand, blood seeping out of the lines between his fingers.
“Harper, please.” She reached forward, trying to get him to sit up. “Let me see.”
The stiletto had ripped through his lip, splitting the top of the pink flesh into two parts. It had scraped along his cheek, leaving behind a white streak of scratched skin. Then finally, as Maria removed his hand from his eye, she saw that the heel had torn out his bottom eyelid. The white of his eye bulged out; a few remaining eyelashes floated downwards. The flap of skin that had once been attached to his eye hung from the bottom of the black heel.
“Jesus,” Maria whispered.
Her fingers, her hands, were all covered in blood as she tried to wipe the tears away from Harper’s face.
“Is this what you wanted, Maria?”
“What are you talking about? Of course not.”
“You little bitch,” he spat. Maria recoiled her hands. “You did this, you fucking cunt.”
Maria placed her blood covered hands on her lap, the sequin scratching at her palms and absorbing the droplets of red.
“I didn’t do this, Harper.”
The smell came back in a great wave of stinking rot. It filled the space between them; Maria waved her hands like she could catch it and pull the stink out of the air.
“You know what? I did take Linda in to the bathroom but she didn’t suck me off…” Harper moved his one good eye to his wife and said, “I fucked her against the sink.”
Maria stood up, looking down at her bleeding and crying husband, at the cheating bastard. The cheating bastard with one eye. The smell surrounded her, crawling up her back, down her arms and under her fingernails. The ball joint door knob jangled from side to side. The severed head rolled, the blonde man’s jaw opening and closing. The lampshade turned to reveal a stretched out, ironed on face of a man on the other side.
Then there was a knock at the door and from the other side, a gruff voice called,