Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
We got to the hotel late. The kiddo was a mess, and so was I. I’d let Sally sleep through the flight while I tried to keep our two-year-old girl from having a total meltdown. As the plane started its final descent, my relief was punctured by an absolute nightmare of a stabbing sinus headache… something to do with the change in pressure, I guess… and that’s when Amy started screaming. So by the time we got to the hotel, I needed a drink, and Sally, bless her, knew that. We passed by the hotel lounge, and she suggested that I duck in for a nightcap while she put Amy to sleep. I did not argue.
I sat down at the bar and ordered a double rum and coke. At first, it was just me, the bartender, and some guy in a business suit. It was coming on midnight, but business suit was talking loudly on his phone. “You tell Jensen that DDP needs to happen tonight, or he’s avocado toast!” Something like that. The bartender rolled his eyes and set my drink down in front of me. I slammed it down and ordered a Sam Adams. Half way through that, I was starting to feel better.
Just after midnight, the bar started filling up with more business suits. A bunch of white, cocky-looking dudes, all talking loudly. I heard the bartender mutter under his breath. He was a middle-aged black guy, looking very tired and ready to go home. “Looks like the asshole convention is in town,” he said.
I had one more beer, then headed up to my room. Sally and Amy were dead asleep. I crawled in bed next to Sally and was out in no time at all.
* * * * * *
I woke up late and missed out on the coffee pods that the hotel provides for each room, as Sally had already gotten to them. She and Amy were bouncing around on the other bed, while a Paw Patrol cartoon played on the TV. I figured there would be some coffee in the lobby or something, so I left the room and headed that way. In the hallway, three cleaning ladies were on their knees, scrubbing away at the floor. As I got closer, I saw that they were trying to clean up this massive brown stain. “Jerks,” one of the ladies was saying. “No consideration at all.” It wasn’t hard to guess that one – or several – of the business suits had left that stain after a night of heavy drinking. I nodded to the ladies, then made my way to the elevator and pushed the button.
When the door opened, a group of maybe 20 teenage girls in red, short uniforms – soccer, I figured – poured out of the elevator. I marveled that so many of them had fit in there, and stepped in. The girls had pushed every button in the elevator, so I had to wait as it stopped on each floor. Floor 8… ding… the door opened, nobody came in, the door closed… floor 7… ding… and so on. I needed some coffee.
I made it to the lobby, and it was packed to capacity. The business suits were all milling around, talking loudly, and there were just as many teenage girls, in different colored uniforms, holding forth while simultaneously typing away on their phones. I weaved my way through the throng, got my coffee, and headed back to the elevator. Three of the girls and one of the business suits got on with me.
As we rode up, I looked over and saw that the man was ogling the girls in their shorts. I felt the rage bubbling up as we climbed higher, and when the girls got off on the sixth floor, I turned to the man and said, “Did you get a good look, asshole?”
He smiled at me. “Should the help really be talking to the guests that way? Do I have to make a report to your manager?”
I was on the verge of telling him that I didn’t work there, but then I knew that he knew that. He was just being a smug dick. I briefly considered cold-cocking him, but I knew he wouldn’t be honorable about it and he’d sue me or get me arrested, and then I would be screwed. So I kept my mouth shut until I got off at the 9th floor and called him a douchebag on my way out.
The whole thing left me in a foul mood, but as the day wore on, I forgot about it. We ended up having a fine day, visiting with Grandma and then looking at all of the fish and sea creatures at the Tampa Aquarium.
* * * * * *
That night, I was awakened at 2:30 AM by horrific screaming. It sounded like torture, or slaughter. I shook Sally. “Hey,” I said. “Did you hear that?”
“Mmm?” said Sally.
“That screaming. It sounds like somebody’s getting murdered… or worse.”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“It was… loud.”
“Maybe it was a dream,” said Sally, turning over to go back to sleep.
I felt a chill on the back of my neck and sat there wide awake for an hour, just listening. But I didn’t hear anything except the heavy breathing of Sally and Amy deep in sleep, so finally I joined them.
In the morning, I again missed out on the coffee in the room, and again made my way to the lobby. Again, there were three cleaning ladies furiously scrubbing at a fresh brown stain in the hallway. This time, I shuddered when I saw it. Something was going on.
* * * * * *
We had another full day – the zoo this time – and by the end of it, I was exhausted from walking around in the Florida heat. But I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about the screaming that I had heard the night before, and that brown stain. Just before midnight, I headed down to the lounge. It was full of business suits, loud and obnoxious, as always.
The same bartender was there. I ordered a Sam Adams, and when he set it down, I asked him, “Hey, did you hear that horrible screaming last night? Middle of the night, like 2:30?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know nothin’, man.”
That struck me as an odd thing to say. “What’s that mean? You didn’t hear it, or you don’t know what it was?”
“Means what it means, man. Means I don’t know nothin’.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said. I sat there drinking my beer asking myself if that was really a weird thing to say, or if I was just tired and getting paranoid. Maybe it had been a dream after all? That screaming. No, I had heard it. And the bartender was definitely being squirrely.
I was loathe to talk to them, but finally curiosity got the better of me, and I went over to a table of business suits. “Hey,” I said.
They stopped talking and looked me over. “We don’t need any more drinks right now,” one of them said. I sighed. They liked that joke.
“Did anybody hear that screaming last night?”
“Oh yeah,” said one of them. “That was my doing. Sorry about that, friend.”
“That was you? It sounded like somebody getting killed. What happened?”
“Wow,” said the man. “This is really awkward. Look. It wasn’t my fault, I swear.”
“What? What wasn’t your fault?”
“Banging your wife, friend. She’s a wild ride.” All of the men at the table erupted in laughter. I had some brief thoughts, but they all ended with me in jail, so I clenched my jaw, left my beer at their table, and headed back to my room.
When I got to my floor, I heard someone giggling. When I turned the corner, I saw a business suit open up his door. There behind him was one of the teenage girls, in her short red uniform. She was sort of weaving around, obviously drunk or wasted on some kind of drugs. The man grabbed her wrist and shoved her into his room. Then he went in and closed the door behind him.
I stood there frozen for a moment. I didn’t know whether to call the police, or try to handle it myself. I thought about that monster in there, raping the girl. It could happen before the police arrived. I ran down the hall and began banging on the door. After a minute, the man opened the door a crack, with the chain on it that keeps it from opening all the way.
“What the fuck do you want?” he said.
“The girl,” I said.
“Open the door,” I said.
“Listen, asshole,” he said, “go back to your room and sleep it off, or I’m calling the cops.”
“You’re calling the cops?” I said. “No, I’m calling the cops, unless you open that fucking door.”
He slammed it closed. I dialed 911. “There’s a man here,” I told the lady. “He got a teenager drunk, and now he’s alone with her in his room.” I gave her the details and then starting banging on the door again.
Eventually, a man turned the corner and came down the hall. I recognized him. He was the guy who told me he’d been screwing my wife. “What the hell is going on out here?” he asked.
“This guy,” I said, choking down my rage and pointing at the door, “he’s got a teenage girl in there, drunk. I think he’s raping her.”
The man smiled. “Nah,” he said. “Jerry wouldn’t do that.” He stepped up beside me and knocked on Jerry’s door. “Jerry,” he called through the door. “Are you in there raping some girl?”
“Bob? That you?” asked Jerry through the door.
“Yeah,” said Bob. “Are you raping a girl in there?”
“Jesus, Bob. Would you get that nutjob out of here? I’ve called the police, but if he just leaves, I won’t press charges.”
Bob looked at me. “Look guy. I think you better head back to your room and go to sleep. You don’t want to deal with the cops, do you?”
“Fine,” I said. “We’ll wait for the cops.” Then I shouted through the door. “Hear that, Jerry? The cops are coming for you.”
The cops came fifteen minutes later, two of them. “We’ve got calls from both of you,” said one of them to me. “We’re going to sort this out right now.” He knocked on Jerry’s door. “Sir, this is the police. I’m going to need you to open up.”
The door opened right away, and the cops stepped in. I tried to follow, but the second cop put his hand on my chest and told me to wait outside. A few endless minutes later, the cops emerged.
“Sir,” said the first cop, addressing me. “Have you been drinking tonight?”
“He sure has,” said Bob, who was still standing out there with me. “Earlier at the bar, he was ranting about somebody screaming last night. But nobody else heard any screaming. Officers, this man is delusional. We can’t have him harassing us all the time. We’re here on important business.”
“Sir,” said the cop to Bob. “We’re going to need you to go back to your room and get some sleep.” Bob shrugged, then walked down the hall to his room. The cop turned to me. He asked me a bunch of questions, who I was, what I was doing there, that sort of thing. Finally, after conversing with his partner, he said, “We’re going to let this slide. I think that maybe you had one too many and you really think that you saw a girl go in there, and you were trying to do the right thing. But I’m leaving word at the department as well as the front desk here. If there’s one more incident, it’s game over. Do you understand?”
“Good. Now, go back to your family and get a good night’s sleep.”
“Thank you, officers,” I said. And then I did walk down the hall to my room and went in. Sally and Amy were sleeping. But I couldn’t. I lay awake all night wondering what Jerry did to the girl; how he made her disappear into thin air. And, as I was asking myself that, I realized that it was completely insane. I didn’t feel insane. I had seen that girl go into that room. But the girl wasn’t there when the cops searched the place, and there was no exit other than the door that I was standing in front of the whole time. And that, I decided, might just mean that I had gone insane.
* * * * * *
The next day passed in a daze. We had a BBQ at Sally’s mother’s house and I somehow made it through. Sally knew that something was wrong, but I did my best to act like everything was normal. But at some point I asked, “What do you think about staying at a different hotel tonight?”
“Why would we do that?” asked Sally. “This is our last night here. We already paid for the room.”
I shrugged. “It’s just… all of those businessmen crawling around the place creep me out. I saw one of them making eyes at one of the soccer girls.”
“Yeah,” agreed Sally, “they’re creeps. But not worth changing hotels over.”
“I guess you’re right,” I said.
That night, after the girls were out, I decided to head down to the lounge again, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. As the elevator door was closing, a hand reached in to stop it, and then Bob stepped in.
“Listen, buddy,” he said. “We know who you are.” He said my name, my wife’s name, my kid’s name, our home address, and the home address of our employers.
“Who are you?” I asked, after taking a hard swallow. “What do you want?”
“We’re going to destroy you,” said Bob. “For fucking with Jerry. The cops might have let you off, but we’re not going to. Say goodbye to your bank account. Say goodbye to your house. It’ll all be gone by the time you get back.”
I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I just stood there, my mind whirling. The elevator dinged its way down, and Bob got off on the ground floor, but I didn’t. I rode back to the 9th floor and stood in front of my door for a long time, thinking.
I had to protect myself, protect my family, but how? I had no idea whom I was dealing with. Could they really do that? Wipe out my bank account and all of that? I didn’t think so… but I didn’t know. They sure were able to find out the details of my identity quickly and easily enough.
At some point, I must have dozed off, leaning against the outside of the door to my room. I hadn’t slept at all in 36 hours. I was awakened by the screaming. I looked at my phone. It was 2:30 AM. The screaming sounded like it had come from just around the corner.
I stood up and walked slowly down the hall. It was totally silent. I got to the corner and slowly stuck my head around it. There, a ways down, was a group of a dozen or so of the girls in red uniforms, kneeling down, hunched over something. I stepped around the corner. “Is… is everything okay?” I asked, walking forward.
In unison, the girls snapped their heads around to look at me. I recognized one as the girl who had been led into Jerry’s room. But she – and all of them – looked different now. Their eyes were glowing red, and they had something in their mouths. As I got closer, I saw what it was. They were chewing on human intestines. With my eyes, I followed the intestines down to the bodies and there, lying quite dead, were Bob and Jerry, with twisted expressions of absolute horror etched into their faces. The girls grinned at me around the intestines. Each one had a smear of blood on her forehead, painted into a symbol. It was a circle with three slashes running diagonally though it. I vomited, there in the hallway.
The girls turned back to the bodies. I turned around and walked to the door of my room, opened it, got into bed next to my wife, and fell immediately into a deep sleep, my mind having been shut down completely.
* * * * * *
In the morning, I was up early enough to get a cup of coffee in the room. We packed our things, checked under the beds one last time, then headed out into the hallway. We turned the corner, and there were three cleaning ladies on their knees, scrubbing away at a large brown stain.
“Absolute slobs,” one of the ladies was muttering.
I nodded to them as we walked to the elevator.
“Can I push the button?” asked Amy.
“Sure thing, kiddo,” I said.
Amy pushed the button, the elevator came, and we rode down to the lobby.
Everyone was checking out. The business men, the teenage girls, and us. I saw that same girl there, the one who had disappeared in Jerry’s room, suitcase in one hand, phone in the other. She looked up from her phone for a brief moment and smiled. It felt like she was looking at me, but I couldn’t be sure.
We checked out and headed home.
Check out Nathaniel Lewis’ dark horror comedy, The Electric Boner, now available on Amazon.com.