Lizzie dragged me deep into the city and loaded me up with Fireball, Jameson, and whatever other whiskey our beany-wearing bartender suggested. She kept trying to set us up, dropping hints about my breakup (I hated calling it that. High school kids break up after two weeks together. Teens break up so they can fuck other people when they go to separate colleges. We were in our twenties. We were engaged. There should be a stronger word for what happened between us).
After failing at wing-womaning, with our phones too dead to summon an Uber, we hailed a cab the old fashioned way.
“Can you take us to a good hotel around here?” Lizzie asked the driver as she slid into the tattered seat. “A good one. Not some dump with hidden cameras in the showers.”
“Aren’t we going to the train station? I don’t want to stay the night someplace,” I said.
She gave me a look, her raised eyebrows disappearing behind dyed blue bangs, and turned back toward the driver. “Hotel, thanks.”
As much as I preferred the memory foam bed in my soon-to-be-foreclosed house, a hotel sounded nice. After all, the trains in our city sucked. Constant construction. Delays. Transfers. People jumping onto the tracks. And at this time of night, we could expect at least an hour wait between rides. It would be daylight by the time we got home and I would rather vomit the night away in a maid-scrubbed toilet than in a rusted one littered with tampon wrappers down at the station.
So I made the biggest mistake of my life. I agreed to the hotel.
After the driver dropped us off at a skyscraper-sized building he dubbed The Best Hotel No One Has Ever Heard Of, the rest of the night blurred, like a sentence smudged away by an eraser. I could read some of it but not all of it. Riding ten floors in an elevator. Taking turns vomiting globs of pink. Making fun of the painting hanging above my bed. Removing the contacts that dried out my eyes. Falling asleep with the television tuned into The X-Files.
When I woke up, The Twilight Zone theme played from the television. I half-listened to the intro as I slipped my glasses up my nose and grabbed my cell. Still dead. I must have forgotten to charge it overnight. Oh well.
The crumpled sheets on Lizzie’s bed spread toward the ground like a waterfall, and no flushes or hairdryer blasts came from the bathroom. That bitch probably hit the continental breakfast without me. She stayed vegan during her sober days, but she filled herself with grease every night after drinking. Called bacon her hangover cure.
I needed to find her (and fill my own stomach), so I threw on my hoodie, fixed my smudged eye makeup in the mirror above my bed, and…
A mirror hung above my bed. In the same place I swore a painting had sat only a few hours earlier. A watercolor of a gangly women draped in black. Like a female Slender Man hunched over with her thick dark hair reaching her ankles. Last night, we joked about how she needed to get laid. And then joked about how we joked like middle schoolers when we were wasted.
What? The? Hell?
I chewed my thumbnail until a piece of polish flaked off in my mouth, but then remembered to never rely on a drunken memory. Maybe we saw the painting in the hallway or lobby. I would look for it while I looked for Liz.
Before I had the chance to search for her further than whatever floor we were on, a twenty-something with gauges and a lip ring tapped me on the back of the shoulder. “Hey, uh, do you know how to get to the exit? To the parking lot? Me and my sister are a little lost.”
A brunette in blue flannel stood beside him, gripping his hand, even though she looked too old for that sort of thing. In high school, I’d stayed as far away from my brother as possible unless his hot friends happened to stop by the house. I regretted that when he died, but tried not to blame myself, because no teenager thought about death. No teenager realized what mortality really meant until they watched their first coffin lid close.
“I was pretty drunk when we got the room,” I said, reaching toward my nonexistent ring to twirl out of habit. I redirected my fingers toward my hemp bracelet instead. “I’m heading toward the lobby though, so we might as well walk together. If you can stand my stench.”
I said that last part with a smile, an attempt to ease the awkwardness, but the girl nodded at me like her mind was elsewhere, her lips held together tight. She seemed so disorientated that I spent a second wondering whether the man at her side kidnapped her. If he abused her. If he lied about being her brother. But he looked equally unsettled, pale as sheetrock.
“I could have sworn there was an elevator down this hall,” I said as we turned a corner. Nothing but more doors, all made of metal.
A few more turns. A few more doors. Not even any windows. Or clocks. Or workers. Or sounds.
“Oh okay, here we go,” I said when I noticed the metal railings of a stairwell. The square kind usually found in hospitals or college campuses.
“We’ve never seen this before,” the girl said, brightening. She released her brother’s hand. “This could be a good sign.”
He sighed like he wanted her to shut the hell up, so instead of asking the obvious questions about what-the-fuck-are-you-freaking-out-over, I stuck to safe topics, asking their names and what they were doing at the hotel.
Brett and Beth. Traveled from two states over to visit their schizophrenic mother in a mental institution and missed their flight home a few hours earlier. When I asked where their suitcases were, she said they had lost track of them and got that frozen fear look on her face again.
We made it down eight flights of stairs, about to descend the ninth, when Brett yanked my arm back. Hard. I ended up on my ass, a screw you halfway out of my mouth when I noticed it.
The steps stopped in the middle. Ended. In midair. If I moved forward four feet, I would have tumbled through blackness. Dropped into a dark void.
“I told you a fresh set of eyes wouldn’t make a damn difference,” Brett said, slapping a hand against the railing and stomping back up.
Beth hurried after her brother. “We need to make a map. Maybe there’s a pattern. Maybe we stepped on a panel or moved a painting or something. Maybe there are sensors that shift things. Maybe we can shift the rest of the stairs back in place or–”
“You can get out your crayons and draw as many treasure maps as you want, but it’s a waste of time. We need to find more weapons in case that thing comes back.”
“What… What is happening?” I asked, my voice echoing the way it would inside of a cavern. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
They both stopped, realizing I hadn’t moved from the edge of the steps, hadn’t taken my eyes off the endless hole below us.
“This place… It seems like it rearranges itself. Like a maze that moves. It’s hard to find our way around,” Beth said, fiddling with the braid resting on her shoulder. “Have you ever heard of the Winchester Mystery House? It was that mansion built by a deranged widow with hundreds of rooms and a door that opens to nowhere. There are tours there now.” Silence. “Or have you ever read House Of Leaves? It’s a bigass novel. About a maze of a house with a spiral staircase that swirled for eternity.”
“She doesn’t know what you’re saying,” Brett cut in, then turned toward me. “How about this: Have you ever seen a news story about some unidentified kids found dead in a ditch? Because that’s going to be us. Unless we find some weapons and kill that thing. Then we can work on finding a phone or drawing a map or–”
“You’re an assassin now?” Beth’s voice kept climbing higher. “We don’t know what that thing is. It could be someone with mental issues. Someone who belongs in an institution.”
“What? Like mom? Mom couldn’t make a floating staircase appear, Bethany. This isn’t a person. This is a thing. A thing we need ammunition to take down. Or at least a goddamn baseball bat.”
“Shut up about the weapons! You have a pocketknife in your pants and have done Krav Maga since you were six. You can protect yourself just fine.”
“I know when something needs a bullet instead of a fuck-ing kick to the head.”
Their voiced lobbed back and forth. Back and forth. Until it became white noise. Nothingness. I would have stayed staring at the abyss for hours if it kept going like that.
But Lizzie screaming shut them up.
Lizzie screaming sent me running.
“I have to get to her.” I elbowed them out of the way. “I have to go.” I raced up six sets of stairs (less than the amount we took down), but found myself in a hallway identical to the one we started in.
I followed the screams toward a double door that led into a ballroom. A chandelier swung from the ceiling. A deep purple rug covered the floors. Oversized tables with golden legs spread out across the room.
Against the far wall, a painting of a woman hung inside of a black frame. Young. Blonde. Blue streaks in her bangs.
She looked like she was in pain. She looked like Lizzie.
I moved toward the frame, taking slow steps to get ahold of my breath again, until I caught sight of a figure watching me out of the corner of my eye. Tall and thin and hunched over. Draped in black. Like the woman in the painting I swore hung in our hotel room earlier, the one right above my bed.
Her fingernails were bloody, torn apart. Little bits of nail with red, raw skin. When she ran toward me, when her hair flew back, I noticed she had no ears. Just flat skin across the skull.
I ran, too. I ran straight toward the door. I ran down the long stretch of hallway that seemed never-ending. I ran until I stumbled over Brett and Beth’s bodies, both unconscious on the floor.
I nudged them with the tip of my shoe, but they only moaned in response.
“Fuck fuck fuck,” I said, debating what to do. Beth was a teenager. Brett weighed less than I did. I could grab either one. I could carry either one. I could save either one.
I could hear the woman coming. I could hear the swish of her dress. The bass of her feet.
I needed to make a choice. Fast. Otherwise we’d all be dead.
Read part II here!
Vote for the ending you want to see in the comment section of our Creepy Catalog FB page! A) Save Beth B) Save Brett The next part of the story will be out this time next week!