by Paul Saylor
The automatic glass doors parted, permitting Eerie to enter the bright lobby. Recessed lights were placed every three feet around the ceiling. Even if the sun weren’t shining through the wall-height windows, the lights would ensure this room was never dark. People milled about into lounges, bars, and conference rooms. A curved maple reception desk had too many stations, but only one receptionist in the typical white and black suit oft seen behind such welcoming barriers. Behind the desk, the wall read with “WINTER FALLS, GREAT CLIFFS HOTEL” in shiny, silver letters. Eerie moaned at the sign.
That means there’ll be heights.
As soon as Eerie crossed the threshold, her appearance changed. Gone was the casual white and grey outfit she had left home with. In its place were a thinning dark blue top, frayed jeans, and well-worn blue and white sneakers. Eerie frowned at her changed appearance. With a sneaking suspicion, she put a hand to her hair. Sure enough, it was wavy and draped messily around her shoulders.
She groaned as a man in his mid-twenties in a nice suit squeezed passed her. She muttered an apology, stepping out of the way of the doors. Well, that’s just great. She grumpily walked towards the reception desk repeatedly trying to Shift back into her preferred appearance.
At least the hole in her chest was not there. For Eerie knew exactly what this forced appearance was. Though why it was this way, she couldn’t yet guess. She sighed as she walked up to the lone receptionist and said, “Checking in.”
“Name?” the woman said, flashing a bright smile.
“Eerie-” she started. She realized that was just a nickname. Originally given to mock her for what she was – not that she was a demon that fed on emotions generated by spooky environments, but purely for the fact that she was a demon and people feared her, Eerie took a liking to it and adopted it for regular use. She grunted and said, “Eyra Sovolus.”
After a few taps on the keyboard, the receptionist looked up and said, “I’m sorry. I have no one under that name.”
“But my friend made a reservation!” When pressed by the receptionist who the friend was, Eerie replied, “He assured me he put us under separate names and separate rooms. His name is Simo Martin.”
More tapping. The receptionist looked up again. “Ah, yes! So he did. However, the other guest’s name does not match what you just told me.”
Oh no. Not that too. Eerie mumbled the name, “Tessa Rivers.”
“Yes, that’s it.” The receptionist brightly tapped more information into the computer. Suddenly, while the receptionist worked away, she asked, “No luggage?”
Was that a joke? Or was Eerie going to need spare clothes now that she was stuck looking like this? Regardless, she sniped, “I didn’t think I needed any.”
“You know, if you just found someone nice to keep you company, maybe you wouldn’t be so angry so much.”
Eerie felt her cheeks flush. It was a feeling she had not experienced in a long time. As a demon, her emotional state usually had no impact on her body. That said, Eerie was also usually a content individual. But the ghost of herself brought back to life without warning hit her like a bullet train. “Excuse me?”
“Like him perhaps?”
Eerie darted her gaze over to where the receptionist jabbed her finger. There stood a teenage goofball amidst his family. He cackled oddly at something she was sure was not funny. Eerie spun back around, scowling. “He’s a bit young for me, don’t you think?”
“Oh! Well, if you are going by that standard, perhaps him.” The lady pointed again. This time, her finger aimed at an elder gentleman who stooped as he talked to another elderly gentleman with a stoop.
“Stop that!” she demanded of the receptionist.
“All right,” the hotel employee sighed with her hands up in resignation. “I’m only trying to help you out.” She clicked one more key and said, “You’ll be in room five-oh-five. Here is your room key.”
“Five-oh-!” Eerie cut herself short. She gulped as confusion and fear filled her. Technically, there was no difference between Room 505 or Room 1000000000000000000000020. She may be plummeting down longer from the latter, but the effect would be the same either way. Her body would be unaffected by the impact on the ground. Nevertheless, as invincible as she was, she deeply hated that sinking feeling in her stomach, that powerful rush through the air, that falling gave her. “I asked for a room on the ground floor!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the lady shrugged apologetically. “All those rooms are taken. This was the best we could do with the request.”
Eerie didn’t even bother to say thank you or anything really. She just snatched the antiquated appearing key with its decorative hotel insignia dangling off the ring and stepped away.
“One more thing, ma’am!” the receptionist shouted, halting Eerie in her tracks. “Try not to kill anyone. We just found a dead guy who was thrown down the laundry chute. It made a bit of a mess on the linens.”
“When I kill, it’s clean,” seethed Eerie.
‘How courteous of you,” Eerie heard as she skittered away. At the elevators, there was a disheartening sign with the words “UNDER MAINTENANCE. PLEASE USE STAIRS.” over the summoning buttons. Of course, she sarcastically thought at the flimsy sign.
And even though changing her appearance did not work, she attempted to Shift herself to her room. An effort that proved equally futile. Yet there was one aspect of her demonic abilities that remained in place. She could see, read, feel, however one wanted to put it, all the souls within range. She also knew, that if she willed it, she could Consume any one of them for nourishment.
Technically, Consuming a soul – taking the very lifeforce out of one’s body and keeping it for herself – wasn’t necessary for immediate relief. She could Shift someone to a dimension within her being, a dimension that was otherwise unseen to mortals trapped in the physical realms, and provide them with emotions she could temporarily snack on. To make a comparison mortals would understand, that would be like munching on a few almonds; where as ripping the soul out of someone so that their body dropped dead and keeping it imprisoned experiencing the emotions she hungered for was like having a garage freezer stuffed with meats and vegetables to keep her sustained for years.
Eerie made yet another noise expressing her mounting irritation as she opened the door for the stairs. With each landing during the ascent, Eerie felt a tightening in her chest. She whimpered as she took the next flight up.
At the fifth floor, the door swung open. A loud smack echoed sharply down the corridors as the knob struck a plastic line that ran the length of the wall. Eerie stepped out and marched towards her room, which thankfully wasn’t too far away. “505” was visible on the door facing her from the corner where two halls met to the right.
Eerie passed a curly, redheaded cleaning girl bearing a small nametag of “PHOEBE” as she stomped her way over to her room.
“What got your panties in a twist?” murmured the young lady.
Eerie’s scowl deepened as she focused on getting to her room. Though Consuming the soul of that maid was tempting. The person had just the right mix of hope and lightheartedness to make for a good meal to add to her collection.
She fumbled around with the key and rammed the door with her shoulder as she turned the knob. Eerie realized she that while she still possessed all the souls she had ever Consumed, she was disconnected from them. She could no longer affect the realities in which they now existed nor could she determine what they were experiencing.
Like most of her kind, she cared for the souls she had taken. Of course, “care” meant something to each demon. While Eerie would gain sustenance from any soul she Consumed, some were better than others. For her, that meant largely the innocent and hopeful. Eerie attributed her specific hunger to the emotional and spiritual state she had been in when she was murdered at the young age of sixteen two centuries ago.
Tessa Rivers, the young girl was merely an identity that Eerie had made the conscious choice of parting with when she became what she was today. Tessa would have never hurt another living creature. It wasn’t in her kind nature. So why continue with that name and appearance when her whole existence was based on taking life – by literally sucking the souls out of individuals – as a means of food?
Yet even as the souls she took early on in her years as a demon no longer provided the required energy to go on, she still possessed them within her. They existed in worlds she created for them. She was one of those that, despite the meager energy they provided – too low to even maintain the universes she made for them – she had a difficult time of letting them go. There would come a time when they had to be released of course. Too many souls too weak to be valuable means she would have to kill even more people to maintain it all. She rued the day she knew would come. She loved the souls she had. Relished in them.
She recalled the first souls she ever took: an early twenties couple filled with joy and love for each other. Though she later regretted taking someone so early in life, it’s what she most yearned for. And she still cared for them and let them relive their dreams over and over again in the time since. One day, and in her long lifespan she knew it was relatively soon, she would have to let them go.
Eerie wiped away a tear while she sat on the neatly made bed.
She rose and meandered over to the sliding door leading to the balcony, ignoring the rest of the cheap furnishings in the room. Already, her chest pinched into a small space as she gazed outside. She opened the door and stepped through. The sound of the water tumbling over the edge below amplified from a low rumbling to a painful vibration now that a dual-paned glass no longer protected her ears.
A pit formed in her stomach as she looked over the railing. Far below, the water trailed off into a dark abyss. But she could see why this place was called Winter Cliffs for the snowy white appearance to the rocks around the rushing water.
Ground floor wouldn’t have mattered.
Seeing no bottom to the waterfall, Eerie concluded the floors between would have no appreciable difference if she went over the edge. She gulped and darted back into the room. Her eyes glossed over its sterile appearance. There was no sense in staying there. Her meeting with her supposed friend was only a few minutes away. And it might bring her comfort if she were deeper in the hotel halls so she could not see the drop below. Unfortunately, going out also meant going up for her friend had made the arrangement for them to meet at the tenth – gulp – floor observation deck.
Eerie sucked in a deep breath and headed out. She returned to the stairs. Once inside, she screwed up her face as she saw that the stairs did not continue upward.
“What the hell?” she said aloud to no one. She could’ve sworn they had gone up before.
With the elevator still out, Eerie wandered the halls until she found a door that said “TO SIX” above the door. The next floor was just as frustrating until she found the door leading up one more floor. By the time she reached the eight, the task was getting quite tiresome, especially knowing there were still two more to go.
Along the way, she heard an odd, animalistic snort and groan from around the next bend. Eerie decided to investigate despite her instinct to locate the next set of stairs leading up. She paused as she saw a brown goat with a white spot on one side of its belly. If it wasn’t odd enough that there was a damn goat wandering the hotel halls, it was also gnawing on a cigar!
“What the…?” Eerie walked forward as the goat moseyed as if she wasn’t there. Without a reason why, she snatched the cigar from the goat’s mouth and tossed it to her side. It ricocheted off the wall and landed a few feet behind.
Feeling some odd sense of accomplishment now that that was done, Eerie forged on in search of path upwards. When all of the sudden-
Pain! She felt real pain just now! Why? She was a demon! This wasn’t possible! She looked down to see the goat making another lunge forward with its head and bit her fingers again.
She quickened her pace and the goat charged after her, smashing her into the wall. As soon as the jarring hit stopped echoing in her head, the damned goat bit into her leg!
“All right, all right!”
Eerie spun around escaping the chasing goat. She bent down and scooped up the cigar as she passed it. She threw it over her shoulder. Thankfully, it landed where she hoped, in front of the goat where he could see it. She sighed with relief when the goat bent down with its head and picked the cigar up with its teeth. It continued to amble slowly onward while chewing on the cigar end as if nothing had interrupted it. Eerie grunted at the goat and moved on.
After taking the stairs up to Floor Nine, once again she was greeted with another oddity – incessant, but irregular clicking emanating through the door of Room 901. With her fingers and thigh still aching, Eerie was apprehensive to enter. Despite the fresh pain still tormenting her, she grabbed the knob with her uninjured hand and tested it. To mild astonishment, the door opened. The nonstop noise only became painful as it echoed out into the hall.
The door swung inward at the slightest movement. Eerie was sure it was a trap. Yet, curiosity compelled her towards this noise that was familiar somehow. It had been so long and none of her imprisoned souls recognized it. But Eerie did. As soon as she stepped into the room far enough, she remembered.
Behind it, and typing away mercilessly, was an undernourished man with glasses in blue pajamas. She stepped over to just behind him, peering over his shoulder as he continued to peck away at the keys with only his index fingers. What the…? There was nothing appearing on the page as each typebar smacked the paper. Was he out of ink? She thought about addressing him, but decided against interrupting his so-called work. Somehow, she believed he wouldn’t notice her anyway.
So, Eerie sidestepped and looked at his stack of pages, thumbing through the one thousand sheets of blank text. The writer didn’t pay any heed to the fact that she made the top inch of his stack uneven. He even yanked the page he just finished and carefully placed it on the stack. With his hands bumping the edges of the lower pages, he straightened them all out. Then, he put another piece of paper through the platen on the typewriter and hammered away at the keys.
Eerie shook her head at the odd man and left.
Returning to the focus at hand, Eerie set out through the halls trying to figure this place out. She decided to meet her damned friend and then leave this damned place. If she didn’t know any better, she would have guessed she was inside a demon that fed off fears or pain. After all, this place seemed to play to her fears and anxieties. Then it inflicted actual pain!
But Eerie did know better. There were no other demons in the hotel. She would have sensed one if it was nearby. No, it must be the nature of this dimension that did this to its guests. Yet, everyone else she observed was, for the most part, enjoying themselves.
So why was it toying with her? Playing on just about everything that truly upset her?
She was quick to admit that most mortal individuals didn’t like what she was, what she did. Why would they? All they knew, all they understood was that she killed people to feed on their souls. Having been a mortal once herself, she perfectly comprehended their distrust and dislike for her. And while her tastes were towards what they considered the innocent, she had always treated those she took with respect and let them live an eternity of dreams. By anyone’s standards, that was endless kindness. Regardless of that, Eerie, in a period of self-doubt began Consuming the souls of the not-so-desirable. But whether she took the beloved or the despicable, it didn’t matter. Nobody cared if they thought her victims deserved it or not. She was a demon. She Consumed souls.
Was the explanation really that simple? Because mortals reviled her, this hotel treated her with the same contempt?
Regardless of the answer, Eerie decided to leave this stupid dimension as soon as she found Simo.
Right! And that FLOOR TEN sign was a good start. Eerie was more than flummoxed by the fact that, in addition to toying with her like she was its personal plaything, it also behaved like a labyrinth – changing shape and form as she went along encountering weird creatures and individuals. And she had had it with this place that so brazenly humiliated her!
On her way to the door, a little present entered her view. Red curly hair pushing a cart to the next room. Eerie wasn’t sure if staff typically worked more than one floor on the same day in a place this size. Perhaps someone called in sick. Did it really matter?
A crooked grin played upon Eerie’s lips. For even though she was unable to Shift – either for appearance or to change location – in this hotel and it was bestowed upon her to experience pain, she still had a lot of physical strength. Not the unlimited amount she possessed in the universe she came from, but more than enough for what she wanted to do.
The maid must be used to all kinds of footstep noises in her line of work. Thus, someone walking heavily and quickly, perhaps someone late or upset, was not something to acknowledge. Again, it didn’t really matter either way.
Eerie surprised the redhead by grabbing a fistful of her locks while simultaneously chopping her elbow that gripped the cart. With a powerful shove, Phoebe cried out as her nose cracked against the cart’s handle. The maid spun around to get a look at her attacker. Blood poured from her broken nose as she sobbed.
“Say goodnight!” Eerie delivered a punch at the same moment as her words.
Phoebe didn’t even have time to react. The smack of skin on skin reverberated down the halls. Phoebe staggered back against the wall and slumped to the floor unconscious.
Eerie smiled at her handiwork for a moment. Then bent over and lifted the limp maid. Carrying her over her shoulder, she took her victim of assault to the nearest laundry chute. With her free hand, Eerie pulled open the chute access and dumped the poor girl head first into it. Immediately, she regretted that. If there was no bin of linens to catch her at the bottom, she would surely die. Eerie held her breath as she tracked the spirit of the maid all the way down. Eerie breathed again when the downward motion stopped and the maid’s soul had not become separated from her body. After all, she didn’t want to kill the poor girl. But hopefully now, she will know there can be consequences to such a snooty attitude.
Then she remembered her promise to the receptionist. Oh well, she shrugged. She only said she killed clean. Besides, the maid might enjoy the irony of having to clean up her own mess.
Finally arriving on the tenth floor, Eerie checked to make sure she had none of Phoebe’s blood on her. There was none. And thank goodness too, for Eerie saw groups of people dressed in business suits milling around. One couple apparently snuck off. They wedged themselves into a recess away from the others. Fortunately, they were too busy paying attention to each other’s mouths to notice her passing by.
Eerie suppressed a hunger pang as she strode past them. Not that she needed to eat, but their individual hopes and desires they had in that moment culminated into an intoxicating aroma to Eerie’s spiritual senses. She couldn’t read their thoughts or minds, but their souls were bare. Before this moment, they had both been lost, adrift in life. Now, they wondered if they finally found what they had been looking for in their short lives. And that rise in emotion wasn’t just a fleeting event, it actually touched both on the spiritual level.
Of course, Eerie could detect them before she even saw them with her eyes. So, it was no surprise that their arms were wrapped tightly around each other as they made out. The woman looked as if she was trying to climb the man who had bent down so his lips could meet hers; their suits wrinkled and twisted from their physical lust.
Eerie just raised her eyebrow and moved on.
As she got to the intersection where most of the other business folks conducted their interactions with far more decorum and professionalism, she saw that the elevators were once again working as fresh arrivals stepped off.
These business folks seemed to be everywhere!
But, in the midst of it all, appearing out of place with his khaki shorts and white polo shirt – clothing she had never seen him wear before – was Simo. Despite her change in appearance, he had no trouble recognizing her. Affixed on his goofy face was a rather wicked and knowing grin. Eerie contorted her face in confusion as she approached him.
“So?” Simo spread his arms. “How does it feel?”
“How does what feel?” Her loud words quieted the room. All eyes fixed on her, then followed the exchange.
Simo’s sinister grin flickered at the anger in her tone. He forced it back into place. Only now, it was merely an act, a production of confidence where there was none. Her unexpected outburst shook him to his very soul, Eerie could see.
“Yeah, you know,” he stammered. Then, he found his steady voice. “How does it feel to go through what you do to your victims?”
“I mean,” Simo went on, sidestepping to an arched window overlooking the falls, a bit of a chuckle breaking into his words. “I know it was only for a few minutes, but I bet it freaked you out, didn’t it?”
“Wait a minute,” fumed Eerie. Her nostrils flared as she leaned in on him. “You are responsible for what’s been happening to me?”
“Yeah,” he chortled. “Pretty sick, huh?” While Eerie was certain Simo was using that term in a different manner, she thought, Sick is right. “I put in a special request when I made our reservations. Oh come on, it was just a joke!”
“Do you have any idea what’s been done to me today? Do you even know what this is?” Eerie curled her fingers inward, indicating her body.
As Simo looked her up and down, Eerie actually wanted to tell him about how, when she was a mortal, she was murdered. That some fool who wanted to experiment with souls and ghosts killed her for “science.” But the betrayal of her perfect world, the resulting anguish turned her into something far beyond what the mad man expected. It had taken her years to track him down. Because even though her transformation was instantaneous, her demonic spirit emerged far from him. It also didn’t help that he had hid in the bushes when he shot her, never allowing a glimpse at her killer. When she finally and vengefully claimed his soul, Eerie learned of his disappointment at the time that she hadn’t turned into a ghost he could talk to. Yet, she still let him live his demented dreams within her. There, he couldn’t hurt anyone else. At least, not anyone who actually existed.
But Eerie decided not to let Simo in, to learn just how much his little prank affected her.
“Not to mention the potential damage you may have done to the souls I care for!”
“You mean to tell me that after all the years you’ve known me, you didn’t know?”
“I am not a Fear, Pain, or Sorrow demon!”
“And if it weren’t for the promise I made back home, I WOULD MAKE AN EXCEPTION WITH YOUR SOUL!”
Then, without given him even a chance to squeeze in his next syllable, Eerie slugged him hard. His head snapped back and he flailed, crashing into the nearby buffet table. Limply, he rolled off it taking with him a dozen dishes filled with food and half the tablecloth.
She huffed as she pivoted on her foot to exit. The crowd was quick to give her a wide berth as she stormed out. Re-entering the hall, she felt whole again. Her Taken were with her again. She hugged them all at once in their own, individual dimensions promising the distressed souls extra dessert on top of their dreams.
Just as importantly, she could Shift again as well. As she poofed out of the hall, the last thing she heard was the stifled cry of someone who just discovered that the two crumpled bodies in a particular side hall recess were dead ones.