This is an older text, written some years ago. Can you guess where I got my inspiration?
Driving through the desert, Liam wondered – not for the first time – what could have driven his old friend to leave everything and just disappear. His had been a great employment at a fancy magazine, and from what Liam himself had gathered in the way of clues and information, there had been no shortage of beautiful company to kill the time in between assignments with. But Patrick was gone, there was no question about that. The fact that his disappearance had left a job open for Liam as a photographer at before mentioned magazine did not help keeping his thoughts off the matter.
The police hadn’t found anything that would indicate a crime, and had dismissed the whole matter as just another case of young-man-running-away. Liam hadn’t been as sure about that diagnosis when he had returned home after several years abroad just to find his childhood pal missing. In any case he would want to find Patrick and try to help him out of whatever shit he had gotten himself into during Liam’s absence. So here he was, driving alone through the autumn twilight along the desert highway where Patrick was last spotted, wondering.
He had not planned on stopping for the night until he reached the next city, but suddenly he felt his eyelids getting heavier and his thoughts going all dreamy and disconnected. Before he had any time to wonder about this sudden sleepiness, he saw the light in the distance. Faintly shimmering, the warm glow woke him up a little – just enough to close the distance between himself and its source. When he got closer he saw that the building had three floors and was surrounded by several smaller sheds, garages and quite a large, well kept lawn decorated with some apple trees and surrounded by a small fence.
The light did not come from any of the windows, which were all dark, but from a small candle flame in the hand of a woman standing in the doorway. She was the first detail Liam noticed – not until he was right in front of the opening in the fence did he notice the sign that announced the building as being a hotel. Dazed, he drove up and parked his car in front of the house. The woman had an eerie beauty about her that was kind of unsettling, but he pushed those thoughts away as he approached her on slow moving legs.
“My name is June”, she said. He thought that she was smiling, but he wasn’t sure. “Welcome to the hotel, we have plenty of room!” And before he had a chance to answer, she disappeared into the darkness. He had no choice but to follow her inside. Somewhere along the way they passed a reception desk, and he was made to sign his name in a tome-like ledger.
She showed him the way up some stairs and into a long corridor, and he thought he heard the voices of the other guests somewhere further on. They stopped in front of a door, and she unlocked it and handed him the key. “Your room”, she said.
“Thank you”, he replied and looked inside. The room was large and contained a spacious bed, a bathroom and a table with an old telephone on top and some chairs. No television set. “Have you by any chance had a guest recently who went by the name of Patrick Day?”, he asked absentmindedly. But when he turned his head towards her again, she was gone.
He made himself at home as best as he could in his room, and noticed several things. The first was that the room had a balcony, overlooking a small courtyard at the back of the main building. The second thing was that the room actually had a television, but a small one in black and white hidden away in a closet. The third thing he discovered was the thing that disturbed him the most (not that the balcony was in the least disturbing, but the bad quality TV certainly was): taped to the underside of the table was an envelope that seemed quite modern. Written on it was only this: “Patrick Day, 21/6”. Liam froze when he read this – the date indicated that Patrick had been here not two months ago, just around the time of his disappearance.
Uneasily he brought the envelope with him out on the balcony and sat down in a wicker chair. With not so steady hands he started opening it, as he began hearing faint music from below. He cast a glance down, and saw to his surprise that there was light streaming from all the windows now, onto the courtyard. Even in the windows of the smaller buildings there was light. The yard was really quite beautiful in this light, with roses growing on espaliers along the brick walls and garlands of ivy spanning the air above the courtyard. The music sounded live, but he could not detect its source. What he could see, though, was that the other guests had come out to dance to it in the last twilight rays of the sleepy sun.
They were all young, as far as Liam could see, and all male. Maybe some kind of bachelor party out here in the middle of nowhere? He opened the envelope at last, and read the letter inside. It was not written for him, but that wasn’t surprising. However, it didn’t seem to be written for anyone else in particular, either. “To whoever reads this”, it was addressed. Liam’s eyes widened more and more the further he read, and when he was finished he just sat there, staring at the piece of paper in his hands. Patrick had come here at will, investigating for his magazine a spree of disappearances of young men on this particular stretch of highway; this hotel had caught his attention when he passed it. The letter told Liam that the hotel was not in any tourist guide, but that it had been – several decades ago. He now suspected that someone was using it as a blind for some other kind of activity – possibly of the more sinister and illegal kind. Perhaps the disappearances had to do with people passing through by chance, and happening upon something they weren’t meant to see?
In any case Patrick had felt uneasy about staying at the hotel, and had suspected that someone was on to his investigation. He had caught the other guests (and the sparse staff, even) casting him strange and ominous glances. Were they all in on it? Patrick urged whoever read his letter to tread with the outermost care, since he would have removed the hidden envelope himself if he had ever left the hotel.
Liam put the letter inside the envelope again, and turned it over thoughtfully. And there, written in the same handwriting but much more hastily, was this: “The portrait in the lobby.” Quickly he stood up, overturning the chair in the process. Tucking the letter inside his pocket, he grabbed his camera bag and hurried to the door. There was a story here, and if he could not find his friend he would at least uncover the circumstances behind his disappearance. Just as he got to the door, though, there was a knock on it. Without really thinking about it, Liam opened. Outside stood an old man, dressed all butler style and holding a handkerchief and a fancy looking notepad.
“Can I get you something to drink, sir?”, he asked monotonously in a voice that made a little chill crawl down Liam’s spine.
“Uh… Sure”, he answered, anxious to be rid of the man. “A glass of wine or whatever would be nice”. He started to push past the old man, when he suddenly saw the tired smile on his face.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we haven’t been serving that kind of spirit here since the master passed away several decades ago. I would recommend our fine champagne, though, if I may, sir.”
Liam paused for a moment, overcome by this sudden strangeness, but got himself together finally and answered quickly “Yeah, champagne will be fine, yeah. Excuse me, I’ll just…”, and the man moved aside for him to let him leave the room.
After several episodes of trial and error, he found himself back in the hotel’s lobby, staring at a huge painting of what could not be anything else than this very building; the sign even read Hotel in spindly brush stroke letters. In front of it were painted two people, a man and a woman. No, not a woman. The woman. She who had let him in earlier. They looked happy at first glance – this was obviously a wedding portrait – but at closer inspection he could see that the woman wasn’t really smiling but just pretending to smile. It was something in her eyes… Then he noticed the date in the lower right corner, where the artist’s unreadable signature could also be found. June, 1969. Then how come the woman looked exactly the same still? And was the man the diseased master the porter had been talking about?
He turned around at a sudden noise behind him, and started in fright as he found himself face to face with the mysterious mistress of the house. Even now, in the light of this strangeness, he found her eerily attractive – and there was no doubting that this was really the same woman as in the painting, not a day older.
“I can explain”, she stated in a soft voice that made him believe her – that made him want to believe her. The music was still flowing in from outside, but Liam didn’t really care about anything else but her deep blue eyes.
She brought him back to her chamber, where the porter was just finishing setting a table for two with high glasses of pink, sparkling liquid. They sat down, and the porter left them. This was a much larger room than his, with beautiful (and probably expensive) furniture and, as he noticed, a ceiling completely covered in mirrors that cast the light from the chandelier all over the place.
“Drink”, she said, and he did. He kept throwing longing glances in the direction of the large bed, secretly hoping they would end up there, but in the end he was all but lost in her eyes as she seductively compelled him to tell her all about himself. He didn’t know how much he had told her, when she finally began to speak again in that calm, flowing voice he could not help but fall in love with.
She told him about her husband, the owner and master of the hotel. She told him about the wedding, about the summer they had spent together running the place and about all the ways in which he had failed to please her. Then she told him about her others – her secret lovers, all young and beautiful. She was so unhappy, couldn’t he see? It was no wonder that in the end it had gotten out and her husband had been furious. She told Liam about the fight that had started autumn and ended everything. About how her lovers had gone in between to protect her from his wrath at discovering the secret, and about how in the heat of the battle someone had drawn the first knife. A candelabra had turned over. The fire had broken out.
“The fire?”, he said. For some reason he felt quite groggy now. What was he drinking? “But nothing seems to have gotten burned…”
Then he happened to look out one of the huge windows and saw, down on the ground and hidden behind one of the smaller buildings on the premises, a fiery red Mercedes Benz. Patrick’s car.
“We’re all prisoners here”, she said dreamily. “Prisoners of our own device.”
The room started to spin around him, and Liam felt himself falling from his chair. Not champagne…
He awoke to the sound of screaming. There was something in his hand, and he didn’t feel all too well. He turned his head, and had to steel himself for what he saw. A man was lying on the huge bed, surrounded by half a dozen robed figures and screaming as they plunged their gleaming daggers into him, again and again and again. As one of them raised it’s bloody hand for yet another blow, the hood slid back just a little and Liam let out a scream in alarm. Patrick turned his head and looked at him, a zealous smile on his otherwise expressionless face. Then he turned again his attention to the grizzly work at hand.
Liam scrambled to his feat and lunged for the door in a fear frenzy. In the action he struck a tall candle holder by mistake and felt the intense heat as the flames instantly caught a velvet drapery and started to consume it. The fire was roaring deafeningly by the time he reached the door, just as if it had only been waiting for the chance to break out. The last thing he laid eyes upon before he threw himself out of the room was a feline figure standing in a corner, watching it all with a cruel and satisfied smile on her beautiful face.
He had to find the way out, but he hadn’t been paying attention when the woman led him here. After an eternity of wrong turns he finally found himself back in the corridor where his own room was. He considered making a dash for his luggage, but by now the whole floor was filled with smoke and he knew that where there was smoke, fire would be soon to follow.
Down the stairs he ran and was soon back in the lobby. The large painting had already caught fire and in it the red brick building was going up in flames. How come he hadn’t noticed all the scars on the groom’s face the last time he looked at it? Desperately he stared at the painting, and first now he remembered he was holding something. It wasn’t his camera – it lay on the floor before him. A voice behind him brought him back to reality.
“Please relax, sir”, the butler-like porter said. “Anything I can do for you?”
Liam turned to stare at him. How could the man act so calmly? “I’m getting the fuck out of here!”, he exclaimed, but was still quite unable to move. Why in hell am I holding a knife…?
“Certainly, sir”, the porter answered, moving to go get the heavy ledger. “You can check out any time you’d like, but I’m afraid you can never leave.”
I am wearing those same fucking robes…! The heat and smoke was starting to get to him and the lobby started spinning before his eyes. Then darkness.
When he woke it was to the sound of live music from the courtyard. He sure felt like dancing.