A sudden morning and I woke up from the thick glare of work nightmare with a bit lip and blood all over my desk. I cursed and licked. I wiped up the blood, and in the process knocked the ugly glass boss-gifted Christmas tree onto the floor where it shattered like the skull of my last lovely. I grit my reddened teeth. Enough, enough.
It was a mild winter, no snow at all yet, but deathly cold. Christmas was a week away and everything was quiet – a perfect time to go away for a few days. I read of a quaint little town a few hours away, Sraitheach-by-the-Sea, it seemed just right. For my purposes, anyway. I booked a room, I emailed the superiors, I closed my laptop. I went down to the basement and packed carefully, ever so thoughtfully. Chose just the right tools. I drove under the grey sky that was always watching from too closely overhead.
The sky opened up to a harsh blue where the sun stabbed its way through. Squinting, I pulled into the small poorly-paved parking lot of the inn. Even before I opened my truck door, someone was there, smiling hugely and waving at me. Though it was bitter cold, arsenic cold, he was overdressed for the weather, he looked like a multicolored potato, with silver and gold and red and green scarves as eyes. Eyes wilting and wavering in the wind. His teeth were far too white, peeled off potato skin and rinsed, scrubbed and bleached. I tried not to visibly shudder as I stepped out of the truck. I put my best fake grin on, improving it a bit as I imagined pulling those teeth out one by one by one by one by…
“Hey, friend!” potato-man shouted from underneath his eyes– his scarves. “I’m M., the owner of the most comfortable inn you’ll ever experience. Thank you so much for choosing us, thank God. Let me take your bags, and follow me, won’t you?”
I opened up the cargo bed and took the bags myself. “Oh thank you but I have them just fine you lead the way thank you again thank you.”
“Of course! Follow me.”
…Oh how he’d be my first lovely here.
M. led me up some steps and into the main entrance of the inn. Christmas decorations were up, well-done and balanced, deep greens of wreaths strangling wooden beams, white LED lights spread about like petechiae. There were red and silver bells hanging about like blood and tears. I caught my sparrowing breath. A carpet runner led from the entrance to the main desk, designed to look like a giant Christmas ribbon. It was shiny, catching the twinkle, the sick glint of the lights, a giant tongue catching flakes of snow, a great river of blood flowing from the inn out and into the lot… It was gaudy and godly, it was nearly too much for me to bear. This foreshadowing carpet! I shifted my bags around and wiped sweat from my upper lip.
I followed M. to the main desk, walking on the carpet, so soft, so fluid, my feet were covered in blood, splashing splashing spla–
“Are you alright?”
I gathered my senses and shoved them back into my skull. “Yes of course thank you it was quite a long trip thank you I must be more tired than I thought.”
“Ah, understandable! Well then, it looks like you’ve done all your work online, card please… thank you, let me just get your key ready. You’ll be on the main floor, furthest room to the back, just as you had requested.”
I nodded to M. It was then that I noticed the two women sitting on a fancy wooden bench that was also strangled with wreaths. They had a paperback in each of their laps, they both were looking up at me, smiling. The one on the left had hair the color of an abandoned hayfield in a drought, no water for weeks, throat-drying hair, coughing coughing coughing up straw and husks of beetles hair. She looked like Sarah Michelle Gellar. She put up a gentle hand and waved quickly at me. The other had hair that was cancer-black, a buzz cut. If one placed a hand upon her head it was sure to sting as a thousand blades. Her lips… her lips equivalent to the carpet, sanguine, dripping, bleeding, mouthing a “kill me” whisper, though it was far more likely a quiet “hello”.
Straw hair Buffy, second future lovely, stood up from the bench and handed her book to cancer hair, third. Third third third lovely. A trifecta of lovelies to be, to come, the music already in the background, je t’adore je t’adore je–
She, straw hair Buffy, was next to me and had a hand on my arm. “Hi! I’m U., how long will you be staying?”
“Oh U. oh hello hi not long just a few days you see but thank you thank U. ha-ha thank you.”
U. laughed quietly in a high pitch that if any louder it would have been such a fine scream. “That’s just fine. Maybe tomorrow the two of us can go looking for a Christmas tree for the inn.” U. squeezed my arm, birthing goosebumps and lovely thoughts. “If you need anything at all, you just dial for the concierge, that’s me, or my sister, R.” U. looked to cancer hair and smiled. R. gave a wink and a thumbs up. “Anything at all.”
“Key’s up!” M. sang suddenly. “Come on with me, I’ll take you to your room.” He pressed the key into my hand with far too much clammy vigor.
“Thank you thank you oh I thought of something I did not see any other cars here am I the only guest right now?”
“Ah, yes indeed! You are the only one, thus why we’re so quiet, but more are scheduled to come soon, later in the afternoon. We’re actually all booked up for the first time in years, it’s a Christmas miracle!”
“Ah I see thank you thank you.”
“Of course! And here we are.”
Having laid out my tools as necessary about the room, I sat upon the massive bed. Burgundy blankets with gold trim. A sprig of parasitic mistletoe upon each head pillow. On either side of the bed were gold foil-wrapped pots of poinsettias, lush and lip-lickingly poisonous petals. Over the headboard, hanging from the ceiling with sturdy black wire – useful later perhaps if necessary – was a massive portrait of a Santa Claus done in the style of Gustav Klimt. It was bizarre, but it worked. I got up and checked the soundproofing of the room, stuffing cracks where necessary.
The room phone rang with a programmed Jingle Bell Rock. I picked it up, I said hello hello hello.
“Hi, this is R.” She had an arousing voice that could give one a Glasgow smile. “I’m just checking in to see that everything in your room is to your… satisfaction?”
“Oh yes thank you everything is quite perfect thank you.”
“Excellent. I saw that in your notes online, hon, that privacy is quite important to you, so I’m also just letting you know that other guests have started to check in, so if there’s any noise that bothers you, give us a call right away, and we’ll see what we can do about it.”
“That is excellent thank you so much so far everything is quite good and I am sure I will not have to call at all thank you.”
“Very good. Would you like restaurant suggestions? Or would you prefer to eat in? We’ve quite the festive spread of delights going on right here every night.”
Suggestive suggestive suggestive–
“Oh yes no thank you I will eat here.”
“Very good! Dinner starts at 6:00pm sharp. I… we hope to see you then!”
The click of the phone was the wonderful and sudden feeling of blade going into bone.
The inn’s dining room looked like it could hold fifteen, perhaps a tight twenty guests at the most. I was the first in, other than a short, fat, slumping looking man who introduced himself as D., the chef.
“Sit. A drink? We’ve a good Christmassy and homemade ‘nog…”
“Coffee please black.”
“Ah, really. Well. Help yourself then, the carafes are hidden back there on the counter behind the nativity scene display.” D. walked out in a huff.
I grabbed a mug and let loose into it a fine dark and steaming stream. As I was about to turn and go sit I felt a hand on my shoulder. I nearly gave the three wise men third degree burns.
“D. do not touch me I have hot coffee and please do not please do not–” I turned around to face D.
It was not D.
it was me.
“Lovely.” I punched myself swiftly in the face, knocking myself out.
I looked out into the hall. Clear. I dragged myself into my room and locked the door behind me.
I bound myself to the bed with the readily-available zip ties, and duct taped my mouth shut. Looking up at the Mondrian Christmas tree painting over the bed, I saw that it could use a lot more red.
I sat next to the bed and waited for myself to regain consciousness. There was a knock on the door. “Yes who is there?”
“It’s E., from housekeeping… It’s about half after six and dinner’s underway… you had coffee ready? We made a plate for you?”
“Oh something has come up I am alright without dinner tonight thank you.”
“Very good, if you need anything at all, just call.”
“Will do will do.” Go away go away go away…
My song was playing – Je t’adore by Elijah’s Mantle. I coughed and sputtered onto the tape covering my mouth and burning my lips. How did I let this happen? I took a deep breath in through my nose, I let it out slow, and–
I climbed onto the bed quick and shoved the knife into my throat, je t’adore je t’adore, letting the blood spray as it would, making lovely patterns over myself and everything else. I pulled the knife easily across my neck–
I saw the blood spatter on my face and for a moment I felt something, but everything became so light, so light and lovely, je t’adore and then a darkness came, I saw broken glass gaudy on the floor before I–
I sat on the bed next to my lifeless form. Breathe in breathe out. This was strange, breathe, je t’adore, but there was no point in trying to find out how it was me there dead on the bed with a knife caught in my C4. This was different and – sparrow sparrow – new and exciting. Lovely me. I wondered how, breathe in breathe out, I would look on the – breathe – inside.
A far too short a time and another knock on the goddamned door. “What yes oh what?”
There was no answer. I got up and walked to the door, I peered out the peep hole. It was
and I was doing something to the door and through the peep hole and everything went black.
I secured myself to the bed, the Magritte-like portrait Ceci n’est pas un elfe de Noël stared happily down at me. I should have done better, I should have thought this out more, I should have cased the inn before I… I should have I should have I should have–
“Would you just quiet down and get this over with please oh please my lovely I see that knife but I think the hammer would do a much nicer job yes?”
“Oh yes yes thank you you are absolutely right.” THUD THUD CRACK and it was over, blood over everything–
…broken glass on the floor…
–and I breathed in, then out, and then quickly washed, changed clothes, slipped out of the room, clear, into the vending machine room nearby, clear clear clear.
Even the vending machines were decked out in holiday garb. Cheap foil garland was taped to the corners, reflecting the dim light from above. The steady hum helped to keep me calm and keep any quiet sounds I made hidden. I studied the map describing the emergency exits on the wall, and came up with a plan.
A simple plan, I had to assume there were more of me, and I would make myself all of my lovelies. Room by room.
Into the hallway I again went, to the other room adjoining the vending machine room, lockpicking tools in hand. Quietly, ever so quietly. I listened, I worked at the lock. I opened the door the tiniest of cracks, I went still. I had no dark lantern, but still. Nothing. I opened the door a bit more. Still nothing. Readying myself for a fight, I flung the door fully open, and… nothing.
Nothing but blood everywhere and two corpses splayed beautifully on the floor. Both me, both my work, both my lovelies. My song. The blue immensities of Heaven… My song. The canvassed eyes of the Dali-esque reindeer guiding the sleigh in the painting above the bed were cut out and placed on me. A message that I would think that I should be able to interpret, but could not. Regardless.
I was doing my own work for me.
A problem. I wasn’t sure how many lovelies there were left. There were at least five members of the inn. What of me? Five removed from the equation for sure. So five more? What if I had brought a guest… what if I had brought myself as a guest? What would I be doing right now if planning the same, in fact I could be the last guest–
A crack of thunder from behind and my head, my lovely head, it felt of broken glass and it was now a welcome monument of silence.
I dreamt I was a child unwrapping Christmas gifts. I was laughing, the boxes were soft and bleeding, my parents were basalt statues.
I woke to the rumbling sounds of my truck driving on a pothole-ridden road. I was in the back seat, my wrists and ankles bound by wire. There was a lot of blood. As I slowly regained focus – so much blood blood blood – I saw the driver, and she looked back at me, smiling.
“Hi, hon, it’s finally started snowing. Look at those Christmas lights! We’re going to my place, we’ll have such a lovely time.” R. winked, and laughed, and showed her far too many teeth.
She looked a lot like me.