Nick awoke to find himself in darkness. He sat bolt upright staring into the darkness in panic. Where was he? He saw a flicker of movement and tensed. He looked harder and saw a shred of worn fabric gently swaying in the wind. He moved his hands along the surface on which he was lying and felt the coarse cotton fabric of his bed sheets. Nick, realizing that he had been holding his breath let out a sigh of relief. He was in his room. He was safe. He swung his feet off the bed and stood up slowly, cautious not to bump into something in his temporary blindness. He felt along the wall for the oil lamp and came upon the cold metal knob. He twisted it and the room was suddenly bathed in a warm glow.
Nick blinked, his eyes adjusting to the sudden brightness and looked around. What happened?
For a moment, there was nothing and then it all came back to him. The champagne, the dance, the whispering; it all came back, tumbling into his mind, the vivid images, the extreme cold. His panic, which he had calmed to a glowing ember, came whirling back again, erupting into flames, causing his stomach to clench and the room to sway. He took a step and flung out his arm to grasp anything to stop the crazy rocking of the room. His hand grasped air and he toppled over, hitting the side of his bed with a thud. He closed his eyes to stop the dizziness, but instead he saw Tiffany's face, the fear, and then the hunger, the yearning, as she took his hand and embraced him in a swirling mist.
'I got to get out of here,' he thought holding his head in his hands, trying to stop the dizziness and at the same time banish the frightening images. He reached out grabbing a fistful of carpet and hauled himself up.
'The key,' he thought as he crawled across the room, 'I must find the key.' He got to a desk and felt along its surface. His fingers brushed cold metal and he grasped it, feeling its sharp teeth and the engraved numbers of his room. He hauled himself up and started drunkenly toward the door. He flung it open and came face to face with Tiffany. He recoiled back in terror grabbing the frame of the door for support. She came at him without any hesitation wrapping her arms around his waist and engulfing him in coldness.
"At first, I was afraid for you," she said, her face buried in his chest, her voice slightly muffled. "And then I realized that I needed you…we needed you." Nick stood rigid, not daring to move least he brake her embrace and collapse back into darkness again.
"We?" he asked shakily as he gently slipped his key into his pocket. His eyes darted towards the hall.
"The hotel, it needs you." She looked up at him her conflicting emotions mirrored in her eyes; fear, love, lust. She let go of him and turned away from him, angry tears sliding down her cheeks. The moonlight shimmered in her hair and bathed her face with an ethereal glow.
'This is your chance to escape, run, leave, and don't look back' a voice told Nick, but he remained standing. He wanted to know the truth. "What is happening here Tiffany, I don't understand. Out in the courtyard...it was so cold..." He trailed off remembering the crushing cold embrace. "I want to know," he said his voice pleading, reaching out to her in anguish, but he made no move to comfort her trembling form. She shakily brushed away her tears and turned back to him defeated. The emotion in her eyes was dead.
"We are all just prisoners here. Of our own device; we come to the hotel and sign in and then we can never leave, we are his."
She looked at him, a slightly puzzled expression invading the apathy. "Didn't you get the invitation?"
"Invitation?" Nick shouted "What invitation, what are you talking about?" Tiffany looked behind him at the table. He turned and saw a pink champagne bottle balanced on one the corners, a small note attached to its neck. He had not noticed it there in his attempt to escape. He reached out and removed the note.
Greetings Mr. Carter!
I hoped you enjoyed your rest
You are cordially invited to the master's chamber for the Welcoming Feast,
We would love to have you,
9:00 pm. Sharp Tiffany will show you the way,
"What?" Nick stuttered in confusion, his hands slightly shaking, "Welcoming Feast? Signing in? We would love to have you?" Nick's voice had begun to rise with his panic. "What is this!" he screamed, "some kind of sick cult!" His voice seemed to break Tiffany from her trance and she started, eyeing him with worry.
"You don't understand," she said beginning to reach out to him, but Nick didn't care. He didn't care anymore that he didn't understand. All he knew was that he wanted out, out of this place, this nightmare. Nick stepped back away from Tiffany's outstretched hand.
"No," he whispered, "Don't you touch me."
"Mr. Carter…" she began pleadingly, but he cut her off.
"No! I have to get out of here!" He started towards the door, but Tiffany jumped in front of him grabbing his arms. Her eyes now held panic, and an indescribable terror.
"No! You can't leave! You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave! You belong here, you belong to the hotel, you belong to me; you belong to him! You can't leave, you can't…"
"Get off me!" Nick snarled, roughly thrusting her away from him. She hit the corner of the coffee table and stumbled. Taking his chances, Nick sprinted out the door and down the hall. His mind was numb, a whirl of panic. He didn't know which direction he was heading, where the lobby was, or the way out. He only knew that he had to get out. He stumbled down endless corridors, randomly turning right or left. The floor was writhing beneath his feet, the boards creaking and moaning. Wind whistled down the hall, catching the doors, flinging them open and then slamming them shut. The hinges shrieked and amidst their wail he heard the whispering chanting, "You can never leave, you can never leave, you can never leave."
"Oh God," he thought, "Oh God help me." He turned right and jumped back, screaming in terror. He was face to face with himself? Nick paused and looked closer. He saw that it was a mirror. He had hit a dead-end.
"Shit!" he cursed looking at the mirror. "What?" he chocked as he saw his reflection begin to change. His skin was becoming almost translucent, the outer layers beginning to peal away, exposing pink muscle underneath. His eyes began to sink into their sockets, shriveling and rotting way leaving empty black holes. His nose decaying, disintegrating before his disappearing eyes.
"No!" he screeched. He turned in terror and fled, tripping and clinging to the walls as the floor danced crazily underneath him. The walls rippled with some unseen force and the hotel shrieked. The floor arched. Nick was pitched forward, falling on his knees. He began to crawl. He had to get out. He came to a flight of stairs. They shuddered and groaned as he began to climb down them. They shuddered harder, and Nick lost his grip on the rail. He tumbled down the stairs landing in a heap. He quickly picked himself up and swayed. The hall was reeling in front of him, dipping crazily, spinning out of control. Nick stumbled forward with a cry of relief. This was the hallway, the hallway to the lobby, and to escape. He clutched his head in his hands and lunged forward sprinting down the corridor. The whispering chanted in his head: "Welcome, you can never leave, welcome,"
Nick ran into the lobby. Flames flickered on the walls, and the designs on the wallpaper swirled in undistinguishable patterns. He looked through the churning room and saw the door. Nick sobbed in relief and ran toward it, flinging it open. Captain stood in the doorway, an evil grin playing across his face. "Welcome, Mr. Carter."
The wind moaned softly caressing the weather cliff, the grass gently swaying in rhythm to the crashing of the waves. Clouds dotted the horizon and the distant sound of thunder could be heard. The hotel stood upon the cliff, calm and composed. A small shadow flickered across the dirty gray wall. The mouse darted over to the edge of the porch. It sniffed the wind, its nose gently wriggling back and forth. Its ears pricked at a distant rumbling. It looked down the road and saw a flurry of dust fast approaching. The mouse tensed preparing to run back to the safety of its bucket. It squeaked in fright as the house shifted slightly, but remained perched at the edge of the porch. The car passed winding the hill and disappearing in a spurt of exhaust. The house remained dormant. The little mouse relaxed and jumped off the porch to scrounge in the nearby shrubs for a single tasty morsel. The walls of the hotel creaked in a sigh, but this time it was one of content.