12/6/04

Volume 01: The Lisette Hotel Incident

"You were out late again last night weren't you?" A stout girl with curling, brown tresses scolded her friend: a disheveled-looking, young man, his dark hair a mess over his eyes.

"Eat me." He retorted.

"You've got the worst attendance of any one in our class and your grades can't be doing to well either."

"Hey, you're no valedictorian either." And at that, the subject was brought to an end.

Adrian Alvis and Sage Harlequin were students at J. Perks Public High School in the city of Megalopolis. Both were sophomores, both were sixteen. They were not a couple, as most people assumed.

"… It's really hardly worth it, ya know?"

"For god's sake woman! Would you just leave me the hell alone!" He covered his head with the hood of his sweatshirt.

"Fine!"

Sage and Adrian were friends, actually.

The city of Megalopolis was going through a rough period of time. The rate of divorce, murder, suicide and violent crimes had skyrocketed in the past ten years. Some would say that Megalopolis was a cursed city: no one there was really happy. Alcoholism and drug addiction were more prevalent there than any place else in the hemisphere.

"Hey babe." A shaggy, husky fellow greeted a frail girl with neck-length, black hair. She said nothing. He took the seat beside of her. "What's the matter now?" He asked, not sounding that concerned, really.

"I'm pissed, don't talk to me." She replied.

"Why?"

"You've been such a jerk lately, now fuck off!"

Bruno Elks and Suzette Harris were a couple… though some times it was hard to tell. Their relationship was rarely ideal; one was always doing some thing to aggravate the other (though Bruno more often did the aggravating than Suzette).

"For god's sake woman! Would you just leave me the hell alone!"

"Fine!" Was heard by both Bruno and Suzette heard from across the study hall, fallowed by a fanfare of hushing.

'Guess it could be worse.' Bruno thought. 'We could be them.'

"You wouldn't believe they aren't a couple, would you?" Suzette asked.

"Who?" Bruno inquired, though he had a pretty good idea already.

"Sage Harlequin and Adrian Alvis." She replied. "They fight worse than us sometimes and they aren't even together… or at least that's what I've heard… rumors have a tendency to not be true."

"I don't know…" Bruno sighed. "I've never really met either of them."

"I think they'd be cool." Suzette said. "… Besides, Sage is hot."

"What the fuck?!"

"What?! You already think I'm a big slut anyway!"

"God! I can't even fucking talk to you!"

Suzette buried her face in her arms. This sort of hot-and-cold behavior was commonplace in their relationship. Why they stayed together, not even they knew for sure.

In class, Sage slept. When he didn't sleep he read (rarely some thing that dealt with the curriculum). He read family trees, old newspaper articles and any other piece of literature that could tell him some thing about the city. Just the week before, a woman had thrown herself off the roof of the historic and majestic Lisette Hotel. It was reported briefly on the evening news (which Sage had missed, unfortunately) but other than that it had barely been publicized: the newspaper did run an article on the matter and the hotel declined to comment: surely this couldn't be good for their business.

The students of J. Perks didn't even really speak of it… they just whispered about it to each other around their lockers in quiet conversation. The subject hardly seamed taboo: people killed themselves all the time in big cities. Somehow this seamed different though… Who was this woman? Why did she kill herself? Why did she choose the Lisette Hotel to do it at? All were good questions that seemingly had no answers.

Sage Harlequin was one of those people who thought that Megalopolis was indeed cursed; that some thing had to have happened in its beginnings to make things the way they were in the present. Of course, hushed suicides weren't the only odd and disturbing things that happened to make the city a dark place. There were all sorts of freak occurrences that made Megalopolis unsavory in ways that other big cities weren't. But that subject is far too lengthy to go into detail about now.

Adrian was hardly understanding of Sage's obsession. Adrian was part of the majority of people who lived in the city and believed in no such things as curses and simply ignored strange happenings like unidentified ladies jumping off of four-star hotels. She came from such a typical, upper-middle class background it was unimaginable that such things would hold much weight in her mind. Her father was a factory worker, her mother was an administrative assistant, her sister was on the pep squad at the Jr. High School and they all lived a comfortable, lifestyle with strong ties to the Catholic Church and Republican Party.

Sage was an atheist—he thought—he wasn't entirely sure what he was but he'd denounced Christianity some time before. He was also went through a phase where he proclaimed himself a communist, but politics meant little to Adrian and as far as religion went, she didn't really care what anyone else was, as long as they left her in peace to worship as she saw fit. Sage was completely indifferent about other people's beliefs, be they religious or otherwise. This is why their friendship worked: complete apathy for each other's views.

Sage walked home with Adrian at the end of the day, as he had done for quite a few years. Adrian lived just three blocks away from him. They were both residents of the alleged "good" neighborhood. This is how they knew each other, though neither of them could rightly remember the first time they had officially met.

"I suppose you'll be gone all evening, right?" Adrian asked as they neared Sage's home.

"Probably."

"Alright Sage, come on; this is completely ridiculous: this 'quest for knowledge' or whatever it is, is taking over your life… and you have so much make-up work to do!"

"Well… shit happens."

Adrian sighed. "You're impossible." She said. "Do you really expect to uncover all the mysteries of the universe all by yourself?"

"Sure do." He said.

They arrived at Sage's place of residence: a gated manor, shrouded in ivy.

"… Well I suppose I'll see you tomorrow then." Adrian bid him farewell. "Try to get some rest; you look like hell—but more importantly, try to get some homework done!"

"If I get the chance." He replied. "Goodbye Adrian."

And with that, she continued down the road, towards her own home.

Bruno Elks took the metro to the middle-class district after he left school. On some days, Suzette would come with him; and on some days she would not. Today she would not. Bruno was becoming weary of the sometimes-mêlée, sometimes-love affair he had with her. Deep down, he wanted to end it, but hadn't the nerve to go through with it. Would she be devastated? What would she do if she was? He knew Suzette was very volatile and he didn't want her to do something drastic like throw herself off a building like that strange woman who know one seemed to know any thing about.

Bruno came into his apartment as the sun began to sink down into the sky, giving the horizon a purplish hue. Lights were rapidly coming on in the homes of people all over the city. Megalopolis was known for being very well-lit at night; whole neighborhoods were known to be lit up at all hours of the night sometimes. But the Elks's apartment was dark as Bruno entered, with the exception of the streak of light creeping out from under the door of his sister, Laine's, room.

His mother, Gwendolyn, was passed out, snoring, with a half-drank bottle of bourbon clutched against her bosom. Laine was undoubtedly immersed in some project: she was an avid poet and often locked herself in her room for hours at a time, trying to perfect one of her pieces.

Bruno's bedroom was in the back of the apartment. The door was closed, as it usually was, for he was some thing of an antisocial person. He entered. It was dark inside, as it usually was. He had a lamp, but he only turned it on when he had to find something.

People keeping their lights on all night were oddities to people who came to Megalopolis from out of town. What was this mass fear of the dark founded upon? Bruno was convinced it was all part of the curse that plagued the city. He had heard the nearly inaudible voices that came from the darkest corners of rooms, whispering things that they couldn't make out, but the sheer tone of which was notably evil. But with the lights on, the voices never came. This is how the Boogieman Theory came into existence in Megalopolis.

People never talked about the Boogieman Theory openly in public; it was such a devious thought that even the mentioning of it made people break into a nervous sweat. It was baffling: could there really be such a thing as a Boogieman, the product of overactive childhood imagination spliced with the fear of dark, unknown places? The Christian community, of course, said it was all the work of devil and that those who were spoken to were products of Satan himself… but so many? No one could say they hadn't heard the voices, and those who claimed they hadn't did so out of fear: fear that if they admitted to hearing it that would give it solidarity and life and then things would become worse.

Bruno, too, had heard the voices, but refused to be crippled by them like so many others were. He also refused to run up the electric bill to astronomical costs by keeping the lights on twenty-four hours a day. So he didn't. He sat in the dark for hours at a time, trying to decipher what the "Boogieman" was trying to say, without losing his mind.

The Elks family wasn't exactly renowned for bravery in the face of such local, unspoken terrors. Gwendolyn Elks took up drinking to drown out the voices, and to keep herself from thinking about her ex-husband, who ran off with a loose blonde several years before. Laine was no better. She was rarely home; always at the library or bookstore or to a poetry reading or play at the Megalopolis Fine Arts College. When she was home, she barricaded herself in her bedroom with her books and poetry. She strongly believed that the Boogieman Theory was garbage—or so she would lead one to believe. Though she stood fast behind this belief, Bruno knew about the little, pink lamp she kept beside her bed that she kept on all night long.

Bruno, though, was immensely aware of his surroundings and all of the uninviting things that encompassed them. He would not deny that the things that were so peculiar about the city did not exist. Of course, talking of such things with other people would land him in an institution again; so he kept to himself about it.

It was almost common knowledge that Sage Harlequin lived, for the most part, alone. It was also almost as well known that his parents, Rosemary and Errol, were presumably dead. The only other occupant of the Harlequin house was a housekeeper, Rosella, who slept in a bedroom adjacent to the kitchen.

What was less known was that some considered the Harlequin manor a holy place. Rumors had been circulating for years, ever since the disappearance of Professor Harlequin and his wife, that the house was quite possibly the only place in Megalopolis that wasn't infected with the unearthly whispering at night. Sometimes people would stand outside the gate and peer in, hoping to witness some sort of miracle. Other times, various religious organizations would call, wanting to arrange interviews with Sage or even purchase the house from him. Needless to say, it was both a blessing and a curse being the sole proprietor of the Harlequin house.

Rosella Hafferty was a student at Megalopolis Fine Arts College: a major in theatre. She had no money of her own: she came from a small, farming community, several miles out of Megalopolis. Her parents were near-destitute farmers, who only owned a few measly acres of land that they'd been working for decades with little to show for it; hence, Rosella had to pay her tuition herself.

At the time Rosella came to Megalopolis, Sage Harlequin was between housekeepers. He had recently had to fire an evangelical girl for holding religious ceremonies in the dining room and giving tours of the house while he wasn't home, which he staunchly prohibited. After a brief interview with Rosella, the position was filled again. So they lived together in the Harlequin house for two years, and still knew very little about each other. Rosella didn't ask Sage any of the burning questions, racing through her mind out of respect for his privacy; which he seamed to value very much. She was most curious of the whereabouts of his family: she found it most peculiar that he was already hiring and firing housekeepers at the age of fourteen.

Sage entered his home after parting with Adrian.

"Hello Rose." He greeted Rosella as he passed though the parlor on the way upstairs.

"Good afternoon Sage." She replied, straightening up a few things, wearing her white apron and blue-gray work uniform. He exited through the other side of the room and went up the staircase to the second floor. From there he entered an office and shut the door.

Rosella knew absolutely nothing about most of the rooms in the house; they were always locked up. Sage told her not to worry about cleaning those rooms, explaining that most of them were just storage. The one that perplexed her the most, though, was the dining room. It was the only locked room on the first floor and she dared not ask about that room in particular. She knew that the last housekeeper was fired, not only because she was holding religious gatherings in the house, but also because she held them in that room specifically. Obviously Sage had had some sort of trauma in his life before she had come to know him, Rosella thought, and it must have some thing to do with these rooms.

The locked rooms became more present as one moved farther upwards in the house. On the ground floor, the dining room was the only one; on the second floor there were a few but more unlocked doors overall; on the third floor there were more locked doors than unlocked doors; and finally, on the fourth floor, none of the rooms were left unlocked.

In the small office, Sage turned on a computer that had been sitting dormant all day long. He checked his e-mail to see if the local news station had made any attempt to contact him in regard to the request he had made to purchase video cassette of the broadcast which featured the story they had recently ran about the mysterious woman who jumped off the Lisette Hotel: there was no reply. After that, there was nothing for him to do for a while, so he went to his bedroom—also on the third floor—and slept.

All was quiet in the home of the Elks family as evening sank in. The whispers were becoming more noticeable with each passing minute; but of course, Bruno Elks was the only person in the apartment that could hear them. Gwendolyn Elks was still passed out and didn't show signs of waking until morning. Laine had emerged from her room only once to use the bathroom and, in so doing, had turned on every light in the apartment on her way, sans the one in Bruno's room.

Bruno was tired, both physically and emotionally: a change was needed. He was tired of his family and his home; he was tired of the city, with its whispers and rumors and black hole-like ability to suck people in and not let them go. But most of all, he was tired of Suzette and her coldness; though maybe, he thought, Suzette was tired of him as well. But to change his world to fit the image of what he wanted would require a great deal of work and Bruno was a fairly lazy person who wished not to exert himself so much.

Feeling constrained, he decided to take a walk.

As darkness swept over the city, Sage Harlequin awoke once more. He changed out of his sweatshirt and into a black trench coat, for the late autumn air would be bitter and unforgiving. He shoved a few things into his pockets and left.

Megalopolis was completely dead at night: not a soul dared to step foot outside their home past dark. Businesses closed at sundown, except hospitals and gas stations. The metro stopped completely after six and taxis never seamed to pick anyone up after the sun set.

Sage walked casually down the sidewalk; he was used to the all-to-eerie atmosphere of the city at night. No normal person would be caught dead doing this, but it was not his first time outside during the moonlit hours, unaccompanied. He strode along, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary was to be happening; his destination: the Lisette Hotel: quite a great distance from the Harlequin house on foot, in the middle-class district.

Fresco Boulevard was glowing with the lights gleaming through the windows of locked apartments and closed businesses as Bruno walked down the block. The Lisette Hotel was the tallest building on that block, overlooking Lake Omega, which the city centered around. In the dark of the night, the hotel was a daunting beast, towering over all other buildings nearby. It was also the darkest structure on the block. Most of the people staying there were from out of town and knew nothing about the Boogieman Theory.

Bruno approached it; hotel security locked all the entrances from the inside at night and would not take any more business until the following day. He gazed in; the lobby was rather dark and baron with only a small, Tiffany lamp shining in the corner.

The whispers were more audible outdoors and now they seemed to move from side to side, as if they were trying to encircle him. Then suddenly, as clear as the ring of a bullet through the dead of night, Bruno heard something. It seamed to pierce the air around him, sending the whispers scattering off in all directions, leaving a deafening silence, which was arguably worse.

It was like a gasp, or someone trying to scream without any air in their lungs. It reminded Bruno of nightmares he'd had where he needed to call for help but suddenly lost his ability to speak. Out of curiosity, and maybe a bit of his own stupidity, he began to lurch towards this ghastly sound. He rounded to corner of the building… nothing… It was farther ahead, behind the hotel.

It was nearly pitch black behind the Lisette Hotel. The building was positioned in front of an old warehouse that had been dormant for decades. Between the two buildings was a dingy, dismal, alleyway. This seamed to be where the source of the noise was. It took a moment for Bruno's eyes to adjust to the dark. Just as he seemed to settle himself into his surroundings, something flashed in front of his face: a figure that dashed past him and then seemed to curl into a ball farther ahead of him.

Compelled by his need to prove that this was explainable and to quell his fear, Bruno continued forward: a mistake.

The thing that was making the awful, gasping noise was human in shape and had other, seemingly human characteristics, most notably its very straight, very long, black hair. But as he got closer, he noticed its skin: blotched in brown and gray and blue.

"Hello?" Bruno said, his voice getting caught in his throat. "… Are you okay?" There was no reply. "… Hello?" The beast whirled around and lunged at him, pinning him to the ground.

Petrified with fear, he could not make an attempt to struggle free, only gaze in horror at the beast's dead, white eyes and smell the stench of rot on its breath.

The savage leaned forward, towards Bruno's face, with his mouth gaping open, as if it was going to take a bite out of him. He thought for sure that this would be the end of him… until he heard a sharp cracking sound and felt the spatter of blood and membrane all over his face a split second later. The demon collapsed on top of him, writhing in its own death and bleeding all over him.

Bruno quickly scurried backwards on all fours and simply watched the creature die. He turned his head to see what had happened. From the entrance to the alley, he could see a male figure slipping a pistol back into his pocket, though it was too dark to make out details.

"Go home." He directed Bruno, not sounding concerned or frightened or anything at all; and then he turned around and left.

Bruno sat there for a moment, in shock and trying to make sense of what had just happened to him… but he couldn't and soon gave up. He whipped his face with his sleeve and proceeded homeward.

The next day, Sage Harlequin got a VHS in the mail from the local news channel, which he had requested. With it came a picture of the woman who had thrown herself off the Lisette hotel along with her name which had finally been released to the public. Her name was Sarah Conner; the first thing Sage noticed about her was her rather long, rather straight, black hair.