by David M. J. Saslav
A 1,000-word ghost story set in a hotel bar featuring a pair of sunglasses
Written in 48 hours for the 2013 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest
This story should only appear on the SazBlog, http://dsaslav.blogspot.com/ - any other publication is not authorized.
Bella goes floor-to-floor searching for three or more of them. The first she spots easily, under a bed in 1017. "Boo," he grins. You'll be of no help, she thinks – sinister, small, unwilling to respond when spoken to – and with time fast spilling away, she hurriedly moves on.
Such hunts would ordinarily be made easier by the fact that the remains of egos tend to glow in bas relief, like faces within the small, focused squares on the tourists’ camera screens.
But she's on the fourth floor, scanning a large suite, when a relatively young one she hadn’t noticed pops out at her from an armoire’s built-in safety lockbox. "No fair, you peeked!" laments the child.
"And just how could I do that?" Bella chides. "You chose an impenetrable hiding place with a secret locking code." Come to think of it, Bella realizes, this one shouldn't have been able to get in or out of such an enclosure, if I couldn’t see her. Some unfamiliar metal they’ve started using, perhaps.
"I’m Bella. You're needed downstairs. Join with me at once."
"The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak!" comes the response. "I'm Myra. As in, 'Myra-sistance-is-futile'!"
Engulfing Myra's youthful exuberance adds tempo to Bella's pace. Bella also notices quite a few peppy clichés and childish puns suddenly added to her thought stream.
After unearthing an older, languid, closet-hider from the penthouse and incorporating her with little resistance, Bella can find no others on any of the hotel’s once densely-inhabited floors.
"Usually a few of us in the bar," intones the nameless newcomer.
"Yes! The bar!" pipes Myra. "Let's go there!"
Bella realizes she's now out of options. And time.
Flowing together downwards and into "The Schooner", they spot several of their own kind immediately. "The imbibing of spirits" is an apt phrase, as it turns out. "Like the porch lamp to the moths!" bubbles Myra, who’s never been here before.
"More like a slow strip-tease in the red-light district," adds the older one.
Either way, dozens of shadows dance furiously here, whirling their way hungrily amongst the lost souls of the living as they pour alcohol onto wounds of all kinds, dimming their defenses; low lavender lighting lubricates the ghostly choreography. But human souls enthrall their spirit-world invaders reciprocally, Bella muses; none of these drunken dervishes will be useful here, either.
"Whoa, check out the one with the Shades!" squeaks Myra with alarm. "That black aura!"
A tall, dark-haired man with curly hair wearing expensive sunglasses is nursing a Rum Collins. To his right slumps a shapely brunette in her twenties. She emanates a fading gray aura, nearly indistinguishable from the air that surrounds her.
A pair of balletic dancers swim majestic figure eights around the two, giving Mr. Shades the wider berth, then sprint toward the trio.
"About time you got back," despairs the first.
"She's nearly finished, I'm afraid," moans the second. "How many did you bring from above?"
"Three and free!" exclaims Myra.
Bella adds, "The rest of the hotel’s deserted. Those with a choice, and all the Transitioners checked out long ago."
The pair of drunken dancers respond dolefully, in unison. "Well, the three of you will have to do it by yourselves, then. Get to it!”
"Right. Myra,” commands Bella. “Get that girl’s lights back on!"
"Myra-suscitates!" and in one fluid motion she splits out, speeds over, and inhabits the drugged brunette, whose left arm suddenly shoots out, knocking over her shotglass, spilling ounces of awful, cloudy fluid entirely onto her companion’s lap. The empty glass shatters on the floor with a sound like two colliding cars.
"Dammit, Chrissy!" hisses Shades.
"Ooh....sorry... Mr.... Polson," she manages.
Nice work, Myra!
The bartender hands Polson some tiny square napkins, but he snaps back, "Yeah, right. This'll need the blowdryer in the men's room. Keep her here, willya?" And leaves a hundred-dollar bill on the bar.
After he’s disappeared, the languid one says, "I got this part. Similar money changed hands over me, near my own end."
Bella sees her sad companion detach and float slowly toward the man and the girl at the bar. Suddenly, lifted by an unexplained draft, the bill wafts up and out of reach, out of sight of the flabbergasted, flailing bartender beneath it.
Myra seems to be making some progress within Chrissy, who is now staggering to her feet on wobbly legs that seem unsure where to take her. The bartender extends a hand and grabs Chrissy's arm, steadying her but also restraining her.
My turn, thinks Bella.
Bella swims off well to the left, then directly through the bar, positioning herself across from a group of three middle-aged Japanese tourists husbanding several glasses and bottles between them.
Bella's ghastly face, horrifically slashed eight floors up and eighty years ago, has the desired effect on the three incredulous patrons. Their terrified screams precede the sound of shattering glasses, cleared off the bar by the men’s reflexive gesticulations, each scrambling to keep his frame and sanity upright.
The distracted bartender releases the girl and heads over, swearing.
Her five seconds of daily opacity spent, Bella rejoins Myra, this time inside Chrissy.
"Now, let’s get us some fresh air – fast!" shouts Bella.
"O-outside the hotel?" quavers Myra, unsure. "I've n-never g-g-gone..."
"Myra! You know what happened upstairs? To you, to me, to the others? Well?"
"Yes, b-b-but I need to s-s-stay ..."
"Listen! Those things are about to happen here, again, if we don't help. Worse things, maybe. Things you never grew old enough to learn about. You and I are the ones who can prevent it. Right here, right now. Roger?"
On a shared cue, they steer Chrissy forward, away from the bar, out through “The Schooner” entrance, past the front desk, and out of the hotel, where a cab stand awaits.
As a cab rolls up, at that precise moment, a hundred-dollar bill floats downward, coming to rest on Chrissy's heaving, recovering chest.
Nice teamwork, thinks Bella.