He had to get the box in safely. It was the only reason he didn’t just lie there as his life trickled away steadily through his carotid arteries. Enervated fingers scrabbled around the top, finally hearing the click he was so desperately waiting for. He opened a door and shoved his precious object inside, only just managing to close the door before he collapsed.
E24. There it was: a small, tarnished brass nameplate on the door. Her hand, trembling a bit with something halfway between anticipation and dread, inserted the slightly bent iron key into the keyhole and turned the knob. The door, old and wooden, let out a groan as it opened. She winced at the sound echoing down the silent hallway, glanced around uneasily, then turned back. She entered the room, putting the key back on the chain around her neck, and shut the door. That was her first mistake.
She did not expect to find anyone in the room; but then again, nothing could really be assumed at a time like this, in this abandoned hotel out in the middle of nowhere. She was more interested in finding out where the box was, the one mentioned in the will of Lawrence Prave. But first, she would need to find some form of illumination: the dirty window allowed little light into the small room.
Fumbling around the near wall, her groping fingers finally discovered the light switch. A ratty floor lamp in the far corner of the room illuminated, casting weak light on the scene. What little she could see with the light and her poor vision was unsurprising: red drapes, burgundy carpeting, striped wallpaper with the unfortunate color combination of ochre and chartreuse. Everything in the room held the unmistakable air of cheapness.
“I would have thought that Lawrence would have chosen to die in a classier location than this,” she muttered to herself. It was a frequent bad habit, one which Lawrence had often criticized. She could hear his voice in her head now: Anesidora, keep that up and the next thing you know you’ll be put on schizophrenia meds. She kind of missed him in spite of everything she was being put through here.
“Now, where would he have left it?” she murmured as she began her search. There were only two rooms including the bathroom; it shouldn’t be overly difficult to find it. She rifled through shelves in a tiny desk she had overlooked before, only to find a Gideon’s Bible and some rumpled clothing. A quick check of the bed, drapes, and even a few mysterious carpet lumps revealed nothing other than the fact that Lawrence’s organizational skills had severely declined since she had last seen him alive. Somewhat frustrated, she entered the bathroom and was immediately greeted by a faint but rather grisly trail of red-brown leading to the cabinet under the sink. She cursed her blindness and opened the doors of the cupboard. How had she forgotten that Lawrence had been found dead in the bathroom? After all, it had only been a week.
And there, in the back of the cabinet, was a metal box a few inches tall and roughly the length and width of a piece of paper. It was not very heavy, but it had some weight to it. She went to remove the lid when she saw the lock square in the center of the top. The lock looked quite familiar to her. “Could it work?”
She shoved her inherited key into the lock, all pretenses of patience gone. After all, who was going to see her, in the bathroom of a ghost-town hotel room? The key turned; the lock clicked; she was in.
The weekly maid entered with broom and duster, carefully avoiding the piles of things on the floor. She trooped into the bathroom, knowing it would be the easiest place to start, and almost tripped over the client, collapsed facedown and bleeding heavily.
“Sir?” She squinted at her list of hotel residents, then came upon the name of the man in E24. “Mr. Prave? Are you all right?”
She shook his shoulder lightly. No response.
“Mr. Prave? Should I get a doctor? Mr. Prave!” She shook harder. The body rolled onto its back and she saw its glassy eyes.
The maid screamed, tripping over herself to run out of the place. She hurtled down the stairs and ran to the front desk. She could not get out of that room fast enough.
Breathlessly, she shrieked at the manager behind the desk, “There’s a man in E24, and I’m pretty sure he’s dead!”
Anesidora plunged through the liquescent death and emerged mostly deceased but still quite alert. She had had a feeling it might feel like this—cool, heavy, deep—but was not aware to what extent it would feel this way. All matter that existed inside these metal walls was in a state somewhere in the gray area between the final breath and complete death. It was a mostly-dead metropolis. Gray buildings sat drunkenly, all mostly dead as well.
She wouldn’t find Lawrence here in the City of the Betwixt. He was completely dead. But she had to get some answers from somebody, and fast. It would not do to linger here and take on any of the strange characteristics of the citizens.
Anesidora hurried through the gloomy streets. She passed people, always alone and with dour expressions, dressed in achromatic cloaks and shoes that shuffled with every step. No one ever made eye contact or said a word to anyone else. Nothing was black, white, or colorful; everything was gray on the bleak landscape.