The door opened and Tony’s voice overpowered the pounding in my ears. “What are you doing?”
I peeked through my fingers wanting to warn him. Warn him about what? I looked around and tried to figure out what had scared me, and why I was huddled on the floor. I found nothing to justify my feelings.
“Guess I just drank too much,” I said.
He smiled at me, but I didn’t miss the hint of fear coloring the corners of his lips in shadow.
“I hear that.” He came over and helped me up. “I hate to do this, but I’m kicking you out. I have to pee.”
I gripped his biceps as fear slammed through me. “Don’t use the toilet!” I practically screamed. But why?
Now he looked concerned. He held my arms and looked into my eyes.
“What?” he asked. “Tara, go lay down. You’re just hung over and tired.”
I shook my head. The fear had passed to be replaced by embarrassment. I shook my head again, too fast and my stomach lurched.
“You’re right.” I did my best to smile and walked out of the bathroom. I sat on the bed and picked the hair off my feet like it was routine and lay down. I looked at the clock, but it was still not ticking.
Why isn’t it ticking? I got my phone and checked it, but it was stuck on the same time as the bedside one.
What is going on?
I watched the green numbers on the bedside clock. My eyes glued to them, waiting for them to move.
Tony came out of the bathroom and sat facing me. He scratched the corner of his eye gently. “You okay now?”
“Yeah,” I looked at him and saw blood by his eye where he’d scratched. I didn’t trust my eyes, so I said nothing about it.
Time never moved again in that room. We never left. We ate the food they brought, drank what we were given and indulged in our new quirks –Tony picking at his nails, Angela pulling her hair, and me staring. I spent unknown amounts of time staring at the picture. At first it was just a picture, and then the people in it started to move in playful displays of joy. They twirled and danced, laughed soundlessly and spoke unheard words. Mothers rocked their small children as the older children played. I laughed along with them, my eyes bounced from one group of tiny people to another.
I didn’t notice the first couple drops, but I did notice the next couple and it took my eyes off the happy, joyful people and up to the top of the picture. It had started to melt. The colors smeared, ran together, and dripped down. I cocked my head as I watched it work its way down.
I watched it till the sky all but disappeared before I looked back down at the people. The scene had changed dramatically. They were now in a state of panic. Everyone screamed, tore and pounded at the glass as their world came melting down on top of them. The mothers, once holding their small children, now drowned them as they stared up at the fall sky with anguished faces. It melted its way down the building, ever closer.
The panic exploded as the running ink began to pool at their feet. They clawed and pounded on the glass. Their silent screams went unheard. Soon they swam in hot ink. In their madness, they pushed each other under the ink in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.
The melting reached the first couple and melted off as hands and arms tried to keep it at bay. It burned through them until nothing remained. I watched all this in awe. Soon the happy picture was nothing but an empty frame. The bed it hung over splashed was with its ink. The carpet below was soaked through with it. I sat in the middle of the bed and stared at the glass that had just contained happiness and now held a void. I stared and I rocked.
I came back in a suffocating sonic boom. The frame was still empty, or was it? Angela sat against the headboard pulling at her hair. One after another the discarded strands hit the floor and the bald spot, now visible on the side of her head, grew. Tony was in his bed and worked at another nail. He had been prying them off one by one. Nobody found any of this concerning.
Time passes–or at least it must have. We sat around zoned out. Angela had pulled half her head’s worth of hair out. Tony was on his third toenail, having removed all his fingernails. I just sat and stared. I would still come around in small spaces of time–long enough to look around. The carpet was sticky and covered in hair and stains. Any available space was covered in towering piles of dishes and rotten food. The beds were nothing but crumpled sheets, tangled blankets, and a ton of stains from body and food.
I sat in a corner. I didn’t know how I had gotten there, but I sat running my nail gently down a line drawn on the paper. Over and over. When a small pain brought me back from the numbness, my fingers were bleeding. The nails were worn away to the flesh. I looked and saw the same line scratched into the wall around the room, some just barely marking it and some deep into the dry wall. There were pink stains here and there from when my individual fingers started to bleed. I stared at my bloody finger tips and the numbness pulled me in yet again.
The first time I pulled free long enough to leave the room is seared into my mind. It took me on a confusing walk through hallways that twisted in strange patterns and seemed to fold over on themselves. The walls were rotting and oozing, the carpet frayed and missing some patches. Everything smelled musty and long dead.
I found myself in an elevator with a staff member; she stood frozen, her painted-on smile in place.
“Enjoying your stay?” She asked in a voice devoid of emotion.
“Yes,” I stared at her. “I think.” I stared as the ghost of the woman frozen surfaced and screamed in unheard horror. I just stared.
The elevator dinged and the door opened. I looked out on the floor then glanced back at the women with the painted on smile. Her ghost absorbed back into her and she stared ahead. I stepped out onto the floor and watched the door close. I could feel the numbness pulling at me, but the change in smell helped me push it off. From rot and decay to antiseptic, meat, and blood. I looked around the room and took it in slowly.
It was in an infirmary of sorts. People lay on cold metal tables everywhere throughout the room. All were hooked up to bags that ran varieties of drugs through an IV and into their systems.
I walked further into the room feeling paralyzed. There was a women with the meat peeled off her arm to the bone. A man to the right had pieces carefully filleted off his thighs. Another man next to him lay on his stomach, because his back was carved down to his ribs and spine.
There were several like this as I walked on. After countless rows, the injuries changed. Women with their breasts removed, men and women with their buttocks carved off. Everything done carefully. More and more rows. More and more bodies.
I’m getting toward the end. The bodies I’m witness to now have no faces. They are peeled down to the bone. Lidless eyes stared straight up into machines that periodically dripped saline solution into them. Their bared teeth clamped shut as they continued to stare. I reached the end and it came as a set of doors. I hesitated before I opened them.
Behind the doors sat the hotel’s kitchen. People bustled about and shouted out orders and what was needed. They all rushed around with the same painted on smiles as the two women I saw before. I watched as one of these people dropped a human breast onto a cutting board and started to peel the skin and nipple off.
The truth of the situation fell into place. My stomach rolled violently and my vision blurred. Everything started to spin and I hit the floor.
~An Extended Stay~
I woke up back in our room with excruciating pain everywhere. I sat up, or tried to, and ended up just laying still and watching as Tony pulled at his last toenail. He would talk to himself, mumbling some line over and over again, but I didn’t know the language and could hardly hear him anyway.
I rolled away from him and checked on Angela. She’d pulled all the hair from the left side of her head and had given herself a receding hairline. She sat continually pulling one hair after another. Her arm shook from the exhaustion of the repetitive motion, but she didn’t stop. I didn’t need the man in the television with the hypnotic voice. I just shut my eyes and slept.
When I woke up, the pain had significantly worsened. I looked at Tony’s bed, and he was nowhere to be seen. I moved like a broken robot–rough jagged movements. My feet shuffled along the floor knotting up hair as I went. But none of that matters anymore. I checked the bathroom but he wasn’t there.
“Where’s Tony?” I tapped Angela.
Her neck creaked audibly as her head turned.
“Gone.” She looked back at the television and continued to work on the last patch of greasy hair pulling them out one by one.
“Gone where?” She didn’t answer so I pushed her. “Angela! Gone where? Where did he go?”
“They came and got him last night,” her voice was hollow.
“Who?” I looked at her, but she’d say no more. I let her be and sat to pull at the carpet. Once I peeled up a third of the room, I went to sleep. That was my pattern for awhile. Pick at the carpet, sleep, pick at the carpet, sleep.
Meanwhile, Angela was down to her last few hairs. When she pulled her last one, they came to get her. I caught a glimpse of them, painted on faces and tidy uniforms. They carried her off and talked about which cuts they’d use off her first. She went with them mumbling the same line Tony had.
I knew where Tony had gone now, and I knew where she was going. I knew, but I did nothing. I lay in the filthy sheets as my treacherous mind wondered if one of them would end up on my plate for breakfast.
Time alone was worse. I watched the wallpaper rot and fall away. I watched myself in the mirror waste away to nothing, my flesh dried out, wrinkled, cracked, and peeled off. My blood fell out as rust-colored sand. My eyes dried out and receded into my skull. I watched all this with disinterest.
I left the room again. I walked the hallways. I bumped into the walls and tripped on the ratty carpet. The silence was deafening. The smells were suffocating. I found the exit after hours. Day? Weeks? Months? I didn’t know. The sun was blinding. The slight breeze hurt my skin. And the sounds! Everything was so loud! I ran along the street running into people and objects. I needed shelter. I needed out of this. I could hear the hotel in my head screaming. Telling me I had to come back. I began to feel numb again, but it only made me run faster. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go numb.
Somehow I ended up in this hospital. I recount my story only in writing. I can’t tell anyone. They wouldn’t believe me. I get out of here in two days and then I’m on the first flight out of here.
I write as I reposition myself on the bed–the soft bed. It is soft. Isn’t it? I move a little more. Is that metal I’m laying on?