Drowning

Steve Arviso - August 16, 2016 - Madness /

One woman’s unfortunate evening at a local motel goes from bad to far worse as the hour grows later, the night longer, and the darkness ever closer!

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01

Grace Santos stands in the doorway of her bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile. Her naked form silhouetted against a field of blinding white. Her shadow stretching and reaching behind her, deep into the darkness of her apartment.

     Just beyond this, beneath the harsh fluorescent light, water and sewage pools and glistens across the bathroom tile.

     Grace just looks at this.

     The toilet gurgles and belches. Water pulses up and out, flowing across the tile and over Grace’s feet. Her toes curl and dig into the carpet with an audible squelch.

     Grace sighs.

     “Fuck me.”

02

An old, gas-guzzling Chevy pulls into a motel parking lot. It rolls to a stop among a small cluster of cars beneath a large sign that reads, “CASTAWAY INN.” Grace steps out, now dressed in a tee, pajama bottoms, and a patchwork denim jacket.

03

BANGBANGBANG.

     Grace stands with her face pressed against dirty, tagged glass, eyes straining to look into the small, dark office on the other side.

     “Hello? Is anybody in there?” she calls out to nobody in particular.

     The dark office replies with only silence.

     Grace strikes the glass once again with an open palm, BANGBANGBANG.

     “Can anybody hear me?”

     BANGBANG

     A distant voice cuts her off.

     She cocks and turns her head to this. “Hello?”

     A door opens in the darkness and light pours out from it. A shape appears, shuffling out of the light, into the darkness of the office, and to the check-in window. The voice speaks again, gruff and thick with a hard-to-place accent.

     “What it is you want, huh?”

     “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been waiting—”

     Grace stops herself and looks at the man now standing across from her. Dark circles rest beneath a pair of glazed-over eyes. Deep lines carved across an expressionless face. Pinned to his shirt, a name badge that reads, “SIMON.”

     She closes her eyes, sighs, and then continues.

     “Just give me your cheapest room.”

     Simon says nothing, leans forward, and presses his faces against the glass. He looks left, then right, and then back to Grace.

     “Just you?”

     “Yeah, just me.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     “Sixty-five. Fifty for deposit.”

     “One-fifteen for this shit—”

     Simon cuts her off once more.

     “You want room, or no?”

04

Grace makes a beeline down an overlit walkway. To her right, the orange-tinted parking lot. To her left, a series of rooms.

     105

     A child cries somewhere beyond an open door, ceaselessly, breathlessly. A blaring television only adds to the shrieks carrying out into the night.

     111

     A young, rail-thin couple—clothes mismatched and hair wild—light up on the foot of their bed. Big, silly smiles wash over their faces.

     117

     A dazed, piss-and-whiskey-smelling woman with matted, wiry hair stands in the doorway.

     Grace walks forward and onward, never giving any of this another glance.

05

“Hey, it’s me.”

     The room is a time warp. Curtains ripped right out of the seventies clash against the smoke-stained wallpaper. The wood paneled furniture that fills the room has long taken root in the thick, orange shag carpet.

     On the dresser is a small color television. A small sign atop this states, “NO SMOKING.” Beside that is the smoke alarm, disconnected and batteries gutted.

     “Yeah. No, I know what time it is.”

     Grace sits on the foot of the bed, rolling herself a joint, phone pinned between her ear and shoulder. She nods and mhmms as she listens to the voice on the other end.

     “Well,” she says as she finishes licking it. “I just thought you’d want to know I found a place to stay for the night.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     “No. No, I understand.”

     Her toes curl and dig into the carpet.

     “I’m sorry.”

     She puts it to her lips and lights it.

     “Yeah, okay. Goodnight.”

     She hangs up.

06

Grace throws herself back across the bed. As she spaces out, she listens to the sounds of the motel fill the room. Old pipes rumble and clatter in the walls. The cries of the baby in room 105 muffled by the blaring of a television. Somewhere a headboard rattles and bangs against the drywall.

     CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG.

     She exhales, a cloud of smoke rising and billowing up from deep inside her.

07

Grace is sleeping in her bed above the sheets. She moans softly, perhaps a troubled dream. A scream snaps her awake with a start. She looks around wildly.

     A woman stands at the foot of her bed shrieking ceaselessly, breathlessly, her gaping maw inhumanly deep and wide. Among the mess of hair that swallows the top of her head, her large, bulging eyes roll back into their sockets.

     Grace stares in horror, her voice filled with sleep and panic as she tries to spit out a thought. “The fuck you doing in here?” Her words coming out more like, Fuhyoudoinhere.

     And then a noise.

     Grace looks down at the woman’s nightgown, only now aware of a foul smell filling the room. There is a dark stain spreading across the woman’s gown, urine running down her leg, splattering and soaking into the carpet.

     “Oh, shit.”

08

BANGBANGBANG.

     Grace strikes the glass of the Castaway’s check-in window with an open palm, crying out into the small, dark office on the other side.

     “Simon? Simon, where the hell are you?”

     The dark office replies with only silence.

     Grace strikes the glass once again with an open palm, BANGBANGBANG.

     “Simon, get your ass out here right now!”

     BANGBANG

     Simon’s gruff voice cuts her off. He shuffles out of the back office and to the window. “What? What it is you want, crazy woman?”

     “Who are you—” she starts, looks at the man across from her, and then thinks better of it. “You know what? Never mind.”

     Simon looks at Grace, shrugs, and gestures at her.

     “Look, there’s some crazy bitch in my room and she’s screaming and pissing all over the floor.”

     “Friend of yours?”

     “What? No. Fuck you, man. I think she’s the lady in one-seventeen. I saw her when I first got here. But I don’t know how she got in my room.”

     “You lock door?”

     “Jesus. Yes, I lock door. What the fuck does that matter? I just want her out of there so I can sleep. Can you do that?”

     “What you want I do, huh?”

     “I don’t know, call the police? Something?”

     He waves his hand at this.

     “I don’t believe.”

     “Excuse me? Why not?”

     “No one in seventeen.”

     “Seriously? Look, can I speak with the manager, please?”

     “Why?”

     “Because I’m sick of your shit, Simon. That’s why.”

     “No.”

     “The hell you mean, ‘No?'”

     “No manager. Only me tonight.”

     Grace says nothing, leans forward, and presses her face against the glass. She looks left, then right, and then back to Simon.

     “Just you?”

     “Yes, is only me.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     Grace sighs.

     “So what the shit do you expect me to do?”

09

Simon enters the room and turns on the light. Grace stands in the doorway, unwilling to enter, watching on as Simon inspects the room.

     “Room is empty.”

     “Yeah, I can see that,” she says, watching him step over and around the stain on the carpet. “So what now?”

     Simon ignores this, taking notice of the tampered smoke alarm.

     “You do this?”

     Grace just looks at him.

     “What’s matter? You forget how to talk?”

     Grace just looks at him.

     “Maybe you forget how to read too, huh? I read for you,” he says, taking the smoke alarm, shaking it in Grace’s face. “It say, ‘No smoking.’ Understand?”

     “Dude, okay. I get it. But how’s about maybe you give me a new room, huh?”

     “No.”

     “What? Why not? You don’t expect me to sleep in here, do you? It smells like piss.”

     He sniffs at the air.

     “It smells like drugs.”

     Grace shakes her head and mumbles to herself. “Weaselly son of a bitch.”

     “What was that?”

     “Nothing. Can I sleep now?”

10

Atop a nightstand is an old 80’s clock radio, red LEDs burning against the faux wood paneling of a style long past its expiration date. It’s just past three o’clock in the AM.

     In the moist warmth and darkness of her room, Grace lies awake in bed, looking up at the ceiling. Thinking, listening to the distant sounds of aggressive lovemaking coming from several rooms over. (CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG.) A woman peaks. A man howls. And then there’s just silence.

     Grace sighs and rolls out of bed.

     “Fuck my life.”

11

A single bulb fills the cramped, narrow bathroom with a dull, yellowed glow. Its fixture filled with dead flies. The dull roar of a small exhaust fan echoes off the walls and tile, drowning out the distinct hiss of urination.

     Grace sits on the toilet, eyes alternating between the dead flies and the black void just beyond the open door set across from her. The still darkness stares back.

     And then, clack. The door to her room opens.

     Grace gasps, holding in the breath. Every muscle flexing and tensing, cutting her off mid-stream. Her heart pulses quick-quick in her ears. Eyes widen, seizing on the doorway.

     Just beyond this, beneath the roar of the fan, is the faint shuffling of feet on carpet.

     Shhh-fmph, shhh-fmph.

     “Who’s there?” The words catch in Grace’s throat.

     The darkness replies with only still silence.

     Grace’s eyes dart about the narrow bathroom. The vanity mirror and a small hairdryer fixed there beside it. The shower on her right. A plunger set between that and the toilet. She grabs this, holds it above her head, and stares into the darkness.

     And then, shhh-fmph, shhh-fmph.

     Her toes curl.

     The woman stops there in the doorway of the bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile. The bathroom light throwing her naked, fleshy form into broken shadow and light.

     Grace just looks at this.

     The woman gurgles and belches. A foul stench pulses up and out, carrying across the narrow bathroom and stings at Grace’s nostrils. Her nose wrinkles and throat fills and burns with bile and acid.

     Grace shivers, sighs, and then lowers the plunger.

     “Jesus, lady. You scared the shit out of me. How do you keep getting in here?”

     The woman just looks at her.

     “You need help getting back to your room or something?”

     While Grace waits for her answer, the woman just looks at her, clutching tattered strands of cloth. Grace gestures at these with a nod of her head.

     “What’s that you’ve got there? Your undies?”

     The woman’s lips part with hardly a sound coming from them. Only a soft, barely-there rasp.

     “You’re gonna have to speak up, lady. I can’t make out a thing you’re saying.”

     She mutters again.

     “Red or blue?”

     “Red or—what’s the matter? Can’t decide which one to wear for your man? You got yourself a man, don’t you, lady? Oh, I bet he’s missing you something bad right now.”

     The woman ignores this, repeating her question once again. Clearer, wetter.

     “Red or blue?”

     “Jesus-God. If I answer your fucking question, will you close the door and let me finish up here?”

     “Red or blue?”

     “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Blue, okay? Blue. I pick blue. Now get—”

     The woman pounces. Grace screams. And then there’s just silence.

12

BANGBANGBANG.

     Simon stands with his nose pressed against a door numbered “122.” He shouts.

     “Open door, crazy woman! You must leave now!”

     Doors open one by one, people stepping out of their rooms, some watching from the comfort of their doorways. Whispering, talking among themselves, recording with their phones.

     “—husband called in a noise complaint, and he’s got work—”

     “—screaming just a minute ago, but I don’t hear—”

     “—already got, like, fifty views on—”

     “—too cheap and now we’re stuck with this—”

     Simon ignores this, striking the door once again with a balled first. BANGBANGBANG.

     “Leave or I call police, okay?”

     Simon waits for a reply that never comes.

     BANGBANGBANG.

     He fishes a set of keys from his pocket, unlocks the door, takes a here-goes-nothing breath, and turns the knob.

13

The exhaust fan roars as water drips from its fly-filled fixture. Beneath this, a hand clutches to a shower curtain—half-plucked from its rings—in a death grip. Water and sewage pool across the tile, glistening in the yellowed light. Grace’s head is impossibly buried in the toilet bowel, neck stretched and broken by the weight of her lifeless body. Her limbs tense and outstretched, as if somehow still desperately struggling to stay alive. Her toes curled and broken, her nails torn off the nail bed. Her panties down around her ankles.

     Simon stands in the doorway of the bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile, just looking at this. No one there but him and a dead woman. But a voice speaks. Deep in the throat. Phlegmy.

     “Red.”

     The voice pulls Simon from his daze with a start and he whirls around. Listening. Squelching with every uneasy step on the soaked carpet.

     A naked woman staggers forward from the dark five feet behind him, something dangling from her hand, perhaps tattered cloth. Maybe a handful of hair, scalp. She squats low. Her arms spread wide. And then, she howls, that foul, rotting stench rising up from deep inside her. Simon is cut off from the world.

     “Mein Gott im Himmel…”

14

The Castaway’s lot sits in still silence. A heavy marine layer has rolled in on the remaining crowd of lookie loos gathered outside room 122. A mother coos her fussy child.

     The junkies from 111 are standing by the door, half-naked. Smoking. A howl catches their attention. They glance into the darkness.

15

The woman pins Simon to the wall. One twisted, arthritic claw holds his head there against the smoke-stained wallpaper. The other digs into the flesh of his arm.

     “Please, just leave me—”

     In a single, swift motion, she separates Simon from his arm, like a child plucking the wing off a fly. Simon’s arm goes one way, the rest of him in another. Sinew snaps and pops, flesh tears, and blood splatters like wet paint against a distant wall.

     Simon falls to the bed, shrieking and blindly clutching at where his arm used to be.

     She just stares at him, still holding the arm.

     “You fucking bitch! I kill you!”

     Simon lunges to his feet, is struck by the woman, and falls back across the bed. She pounces, throwing the arm into the darkness, crawling atop and mounting Simon.

     He lifts his head from the bed, “I’ll fucking kill—”

     The woman cuts him off, turning his words into wet gurgling sounds with a clawed hand buried knuckle-deep into his mouth and eyes. She bites into him, teeth tearing and rending flesh. What isn’t swallowed is vomited up and out from the pit of her gaping maw, this horrible mess of blood and bone and hair. Streaming out and over her lips. The writhing body beneath her falling limp and silent.

     Drawn by the terrible screams and struggle, the junkies burst into the room. They stare for one long horrifying moment of disbelief as the woman continues to feast. The room filling with the wet crunching and cracking of teeth tearing and chewing and swallowing flesh and bone.

     “Jesus Christ,” one junkie says to nobody in particular as the other doubles over and vomits.

     The woman reels back, turning to and staring at the couple with large, wild eyes. Her breath heavy and shallow. Face and hands and body dripping in gore.

     The couple just look at her.

     She rises to her feet, slow, steady. Standing tall and naked atop the bed, over what’s left of Simon. And then she lets out the most god-awful scream imaginable. Breathlessly, ceaselessly. The cry splits the night.

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