As a life-long hotel maintenance worker, I’ve seen some bizarre occurrences throughout my career. I’m not going to bore you with the details of the people who broke their toilet while trying to flush human remains, or the time I had to call the hospital after I found a very, very high individual trying to ‘consummate’ a relationship with one of the hotel’s boilers. It’s a messier, nastier job than all the recruitment shit they slam into high school career fairs would have you believe.
I’ve heard that this place is a kind of confessional for people who have freaky shit on their mind, and boy do I have a doozy for you here. I can tell you what happened, but I can’t even begin to explain the shit I saw, and I’m not sure I’d even want to. All the names and places have been changed out of respect for the people involved.
It started on the 25th of February. I was in the Marriott’s employee lounge, getting myself a cup of morning coffee to tide me over until my lunch break, when my radio started buzzing. I was getting a call from Mike Chappell, another maintenance guy, who had started working here about six months ago. Employees came and went constantly at the Marriott – in essence, we were both just highly-qualified handymen.
“What is it now?” I mumbled tiredly into the receiver.
“Come up to the roof. You’ve gotta see this.”
“No time to explain, just get up here. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
I took the elevator to the top floor of the building and headed for the stairway to the roof. For context, it’s important to note that nobody would have gotten this far without a keycard, a ring of actual keys, and an intimate knowledge of the various keypad codes of the Marriot building. Just keep that in mind.
Mike was waiting at the top of the stairwell, wearing a worried-as-hell facial expression and holding a monkey wrench like it was a weapon. The door to the rooftop was open next to him, and a cold wind was blowing in.
“What’s the problem, Mr Mysterious?” I asked, panting as I reached the top of the stairs.
“It’s…her. She’s been here for a while.”
He gestured, with a nod of his head, to the space outside the door.
Leaning forward, I peeked out to take a look, and saw a figure standing in the distance. She had a tangle of wiry, silver hair, a white nightgown, and hands that dripped with red. Her head was snapped back, staring directly into the sky, almost like she was in a trance.
“How long has she been standing there?” I whispered.
“Beats me. The door was locked when I got up here, so fuck knows how she ended up out there.”
“Has she done anything?”
“No, I don’t think so. She’s been standing there, just like that, for as long as I’ve been watching her.”
“A good twenty minutes. I’ve called the cops and an ambulance, they should be en route.”
The longer I stared at that woman and at the blood staining her clenched fists, the more uncomfortable I felt about it. There was something incredibly unpleasant about being caught in the limbo of ignorance while waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
“Gimme the wrench.” I sighed, offering an outstretched arm.
“Gimme the wrench. I’m gonna go ask her a few questions.”
Mike opened his mouth to protest, but instead just nodded and passed me the wrench without another word. The handle was warm and sweaty from being in Mike’s nervous grip, but, given the circumstances, it didn’t really rank among my most pressing concerns.
I stepped out onto the roof, my skin breaking out in clusters of gooseflesh. The strange woman was barefoot and naked from the knees down, her wrinkly calves and ankles webbed in purple varicose veins. I couldn’t see her face yet, but it was clear that this woman was pretty damn old.
“Ma’am?” I said softly as I approached, clutching the wrench with enough force to crush a brick, “You’re not supposed to be up here. Are you lost?”
No reply. I edged a little closer.
“Ma’am, I’m gonna need you to come with me. This area is strictly employees only.”
When I was finally standing in front of her, she didn’t look down or even acknowledge my presence. Her face was etched in more lines and contours than an old-fashioned road map, but – other than her vacant expression – she didn’t betray any kind of menace. She was someone’s aunt or grandmother, she was just behaving a little…strangely.
Lowering the wrench, I extended my free hand to wave it in front of her face, trying desperately to elicit some kind of response. If her eyes still didn’t move, I figured we had to be dealing with a blind woman.
“Did someone bring you here, ma’am?” I asked, my fingertips a few inches away from her eyes.
Her hand shot out and clamped around my wrist like a vise. I screamed abruptly, less from the shock of her grabbing me, and more from the shock of finally seeing her hands.
There wasn’t any skin on her fingers – each digit had been torn down to muscle, vein, and bone, making every movement they made look agonizingly painful. It was hard to believe, but somehow, the woman’s fingers had been flayed all the way down to the knuckle, and were dripping with fresh blood.
She leaned in close to me, her breath stinking of dehydration, her eyes remaining fixed to some invisible point above us. Her lips were covered in glistening scales of dead skin that made me want to vomit.
“The Kingdom is coming,” she hissed through clenched teeth, “Can’t you see it?”
While she was enraptured by an empty sky, I was wincing in pain at the tightening of her skeletal fingers around my wrist. Mike, the cowardly bastard, was still waiting in the wings, and I couldn’t bring myself to smash an old woman in the face with a wrench – spooky or otherwise.
“The Kingdom? When is it coming?” I grunted, feigning interest, hoping that if I placated her she’d stop cutting off the circulation to my hand.
Her grip loosened, and her arm swung lazily back to her side. Nothing could divide her attention from the clouds.
“The Kingdom of Heaven, I saw it in a dream. It’ll be here very soon – perhaps a couple of days.”
I shot backwards, trying to rub the pain out of my wrist. I rolled up the bloodstained sleeve of my formerly-blue work shirt and found that livid bruises were already starting to rise. That woman was freakishly strong.
Seeing as I repair broken appliances and not broken minds, I stepped off and threw Mike ‘Conscientious Objector’ Chappell an angry glare.
“Where the fuck were you when she was going all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Geriatric on me?” I said, walking over to Mike as some EMTs and cops barged past him.
“What did you want me to do?” He asked, offering open hands, as though implying helplessness, “You’re the one with the wrench, did you expect me to charge in and rabbit punch a senior citizen?”
I shrugged and grumbled, trudging back down the stairway. I thought that the whole thing was open-and-shut until some officers stopped us outside the elevator.
“Did the woman say anything strange to you?” A thin, bald detective asked us, his notepad open and his pen at the ready.
“Strange? What kind of strange?” Mike asked.
The detective turned his hooded gaze over to me, scanning my name tag with those scalpel-sharp eyes.
“Mr…Weir?” He asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Just David, please, detective.”
“David. Right. You’re the senior technician here, correct?”
“Might I have a word with you, in private?”
Mike nodded and peeled away from the group, breaking into a whistle as he stalked off to the elevator. The kid hadn’t seen what I saw.
“I’m Detective Peter Romero, and it goes without saying that what I’m about to tell you is entirely between you and me,” he said in hushed tones, once Mike was fully out of earshot, “I don’t believe that this is an isolated incident, if what I’ve assumed about this particular case is true. In the past week there’ve been 45 similar cases – people congregating on the rooftops of tall buildings, spouting nonsense – entirely unconnected people, entirely unconnected buildings.”
As Detective Romero reeled off case details, I started to get the unsettling feeling that I was being drawn into the whole damn conspiracy.
“What I need from you, David, is to know what exactly she said to you. Any places, any names, any specifics.”
This whole situation felt crazy, but Detective Romero’s face was deadly serious.
“She, uh, she didn’t talk much.” I said, scratching the back of my head, “She mostly seemed catatonic, like she was in a daze.”
Romero took notes as I rambled. I don’t think I saw him blink once.
“Did she mention anything in particular, David?”
“Yeah, yeah. She said that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven’ is coming, and that it’ll be here in a few days.”
Yup. It sounded just as batshit coming out of my mouth too.
As soon as the words passed my lips, the Detective’s eyes lit up. He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, produced a laminated business card, and pushed it into my hands.
“We’ll be in touch.” He said, and walked off.
I tried to get back to work after that, but honestly I just felt too queasy. My manager had been briefed on the nature of the case by Detective Romero, and I was given the rest of the day off to get over my little experience. A doctor who arrived on the scene even told me that I could get some emergency counseling, if necessary.
Instead of going to a shrink, I decided to deal with it the old-fashioned American way: sleeping it off. However, I was broken from my day-long nap when I got a call from Mike.
My tired eyes drifted over to the radium-green LED display of my alarm clock: it read 7:30 PM. That’s my sleeping patterns screwed.
After a lengthy groan, I reached over and grabbed my cell phone off the coffee table, pressing it gingerly to my ear.
“What is it?” I grumbled.
“I know, you’re on the caller ID. What’s the problem?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to know if you were okay, as all.”
“Yeah, I’m fine, thanks. It’s been a long day.”
There was a long silence. Dead air. Mike had some ulterior motive for calling.
“What did the detective say to you?” He asked.
“Oh, nothing much. Just corroborating some case details.”
“I managed to catch a word with some of the EMTs about the old lady, turns out she’d broken out of some miserable retirement home out in the burbs.”
“Good for her.” I said, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.
“But here’s the crazy thing, right. You know her fucked up fingers, and you know how I told you the door to the roof was locked when I got to it?”
“Yes, and yes.”
“Turns out, the cleaners found skin, blood, and fingernails all over the side of the building. She fucking climbed!”
I sat bolt-upright in shock.
“No, that’s impossible. That building’s a hundred feet tall and that woman looked like she was pushing a hundred years old.”
“Improbable, yes. Impossible? Apparently not. And this ain’t no average old biddy, either, it took four EMTs and two police officers to wrestle her into the ambulance.”
“No kidding! I saw her cold-cock some beat cop who tried to get her to stop looking up, I didn’t think the poor guy was gonna get back up.”
In that moment, I felt like I was the one who’d been cold-cocked. I collapsed back into bed, my shaking hands barely even holding the phone. That frail-looking old woman nearly crushed my wrist with one hand; if I had any reason to be incredulous, it’s that I didn’t want to consider the possibilities of what all this could mean.
“Anyway, Dave, I better get off now, or the missus is gonna think I’m cheating. You take care, ya hear?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mikey.”
I hung up and dropped the phone onto my bedroom floor. I didn’t get a wink of sleep for the rest of the night.
“The Kingdom of Heaven, I saw it in a dream. It’ll be here very soon – perhaps a couple of days.”
The next day, Mike and I met at the stairwell leading to the rooftop. We both looked nervous and sleep-deprived, and we could tell without saying a word that we were both here for the same reason.
“Going up?” He asked, a quiver in his voice.
When we both got to the top the stairwell, Mike unlocked the door and we stepped out onto the roof. I’d love to tell you otherwise, but as it turns out, all our worst fears were true.
There were three people standing there, all staring directly up at the sky.
One was Maria, a Spanish cleaner working for the Marriott. The other two looked like homeless men: one tall and emaciated, the other short and stolid. All three of them had red, bleeding hands.
“Oh, fuck.” Mike said aloud, covering his mouth.
I didn’t say anything, I didn’t need to. If looks could kill, in that moment my face was the atom bomb.
Without a moment’s thought, I sprinted over to Maria. I’d known her ever since I started working here, and she was one of the nicest women you’d ever meet. All this crazy shit just wasn’t like her.
“Maria, please, snap out of it.” I said, clicking my fingers in front of her face.
“El Reino del Cielo. Lo vi en un sueño.” She replied, in an unusually hoarse voice.
“It’s coming. Tomorrow, it’ll be here.” Said the tall homeless man, his voice an icy monotone.
I beat a closed fist against the side of my head, hoping it might wake me up from the dream I wished I was having. Every fiber of my being was screaming that I needed to call Detective Romero, that I needed to know more. But my thoughts were interrupted.
“Uh, David…” Mike said, with the voice of a man trying desperately to remain composed, “You’re gonna want to take a look at this…just promise that you won’t freak out, okay?”
He was standing at the edge of the roof, staring over the ledge with a look of disbelief in his eyes. I scarcely dared to look as I practically crept over to him, ready to see whatever he was seeing.
It was her, the old woman from yesterday. She was climbing the office building across from us like she was a goddamn spider, her thin arms and legs frantically scrambling over glass and concrete. But she wasn’t alone, there were so many people, maybe in the high fifties, doing just the same – crawling up buildings like an overgrown cockroach infestation. It was like something out of a horror movie.
“What can we do?” Mike asked.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”
Behind us, the short homeless man muttered, “The Kingdom of Heaven will receive all of us.”
It took every ounce of restraint in my body to not throw him off the edge.
Later that night, once I’d gone home and the emergency services had done their best to contain the clusterfuck in town, I started frantically calling Detective Romero. Maybe it was because of an outdated business card, maybe he was just too busy with all the new cases going on around the city, but he didn’t answer a single one of my calls. Every single one of them went to voicemail, without fail.
Another sleepless night, spent turning over the skinny homeless man’s words in my mind. He said that the Kingdom of Heaven would be here tomorrow. Tomorrow, in the official sense, was only a few hours away.
We were counting down to the Kingdom of Heaven.
I went to work the next day feeling like there was a boulder in my guts; a pervasive sense of anxiety that just weighed on me no matter how much I tried to distract myself from it.
Expecting to meet Mike, I camped at the bottom of the stairwell for an hour, only to feel the dread creep in when he didn’t show up. I gave him another half an hour before I pushed aside the childish notion of hope and made my way up towards the roof.
In my head, I prayed to God that I was wrong.
When I grabbed the door handle, I realized that it was already unlocked. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I clicked down the handle and opened the door, still not entirely sure what the hell I should be expecting.
The rooftop was packed. There were sixty people, easily, staring into the sky like zombies, most of their hands dripping with red.
Except for Mike’s, of course. He had a second key.
Mike was standing where he stood yesterday, his spine as straight as a barge pole, his head twisted upwards and pointed to the sky. I felt my heart sink as tears started rolling down my cheeks – it couldn’t be true, I didn’t want it to be true.
I ran over to him and shook him by the shoulders, but he didn’t budge an inch.
“Mikey, please, snap out of it! This isn’t you!” I shook him more vigorously, biting back full-blown sobs of terror, “C’mon, Mikey, this is insane. We can’t keep…”
My tongue seized up in my mouth when I looked over Mike’s shoulder. Every roof was like this one, packed with hundreds of people, all over the city. Some were still scaling the sides of buildings on bloody hands and feet, while those already up there looked mindlessly up into the clouds.
Those of us who were still sane were taking to the streets below, trying desperately to see what was going on.
I whipped out my phone and hammered in Romero’s number, just wanting some form of answer.
Sadly, I got one.
The phone was ringing audibly behind me, I turned on my heels and saw Romero in the crowd, his eagle-eyes gazing up to some invisible point in the sky – his hands skinless, all dripping red.
“The Kingdom of Heaven,” he said in a flat, toneless register, “Is mere minutes away.”
The altitude felt like it was strangling me. I screamed audibly, running down the stairs to the employee elevator and smashing the buttons until the damn thing took me to the bottom floor. I didn’t care anymore, as far as I was concerned, all I needed to do was put distance between myself and whatever madness had taken Mikey, Romero, and all the others.
I didn’t feel safe until my shoes were kissing asphalt. Huge crowds were converging in the streets, pulsing with fearful questions about what the hell was going on. Half the high-rises were covered in these Kingdom-seeking maniacs; the rooftops were so crowded, you could see people almost spilling over the edges.
But, before another thought could pass through my head, the world seemed to go dark, like an instant solar eclipse. Then, the noise began.
It almost defied description, it was like someone taking a power drill to your inner ear and washing it out with acid. This great, pounding boom that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once, forcing me and everyone else at street-level to our knees. Our eyes were fixed to the ground, clutching our heads in absolute agony, utterly unaware of whatever was happening above us.
The only thing louder than that godforsaken sound was all the screaming.
What I can only assume must have been “The Kingdom of Heaven” ended just shy of sixty seconds later. The darkness was lifted and the sound ceased, leaving us in brilliant light and perfect silence. But most distinctive of all was the fact that there didn’t seem to be a single person on any of the rooftops.
I bolted back into the Marriott, taking the elevator back to the top floor and tearing up the stairwell at speeds I’d have thought unimaginable for a portly, middle-aged man like me. I just had to know that Mikey and Romero and all the others were safe. I’d take insane over dead.
When I threw open the door to the rooftop, I didn’t know what to expect. There were no people, no bodies, not even parts of bodies. Just an inch-deep pool of shimmering blood that filled the rooftop entirely.
I was in total shock, unable to react, unable to even think. My eyes drifted off to the other rooftops, all stained in crimson. They were all gone: Mikey, Romero, the old woman, all the hundreds of people that had amassed on the city’s rooftops. All gone, nothing but blood and the memories of their final pained screaming.
To this day, I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why it affected the people that it did, why it made them stand on the rooftops and wait for it, and what the hell it did to them when the “Kingdom of Heaven” finally arrived. Those are all just painful mysteries – ones I’m not even sure I want a resolution to.
Though, I will admit that now I know two things for certain. The first is that, whatever that thing was, it certainly wasn’t Heaven – at least, not by any definition of Heaven that I know.
The second? When The Kingdom of Heaven comes to you – as I’m sure it will – if you want to live, look down.