a homoerotic psychological thriller
It was one of those dreary days where a grey filter covers the land. I remember it clearly because the old Allen Inn looked incredibly musty when I first saw it peering through the fog on that brisk November afternoon. It was a historical building from the 1800’s made of brick and covered with rich, green verdure like laced stockings crawling up its sides. The Inn was located not far from my childhood home and I can remember riding my bike past it as a child. My pigtails matched the pom-poms that dangled from my handlebars as I glided down Fowler Street. At the time, I didn’t know what the place was, I only ever heard my mom say, “You better settle down or you’re going to the Inn!” I figured she meant she was going to book me a room all by myself so she could have some peace and quiet at home. Peace and quiet, that’s why I had returned to the place, to soothe my mind.
Gusts of wind shuffled through the trees. The rustling leaves sounded like hushed whispers. I wrapped my scarf around my mouth and ears before picking up a suitcase in each hand and heading to the large wooden door. As I walked up the front steps, some nerves crept into my throat. I stood frozen in front of the door while a wave of pungent nostalgia consumed me. It was as if I was contacting myself from a different dimension, warning myself of something to come. I could taste the message in my mouth, but I couldn’t translate it to words. All of a sudden, the knob turned, disrupting my train of thought. A bearded face peered through the door then extended it for me.
“Hello there Madeline, we’ve been expecting you. I’m Ezra, your caretaker here at the Inn”, he said carefully, “My goal is to make you as comfortable as possible,” the corners of his mouth slid into a smile.
He was a tall, slender man in his mid-forties, maybe. His tone sounded sincere, but his eyes looked at me apologetically, like I was some stray cat.
I didn’t know what to say, except, “Thank you very much.”
“I can take those,” he said, reaching for my bags.
I surrendered my bags then followed him inside. Stepping into the lobby felt like stepping into a 1920’s speakeasy. From the high ceiling, hung a vintage chandelier, which glistened in the light emanating from a small fireplace in the corner. By the fire, were a set of old leather chairs and a delicate, glass bar cart containing whiskey glasses. On the other side of the room, was a small, empty bar without a bartender. No other guests could be seen either.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more people here. This place is beautiful,” I said.
“Actually, we’ve reached capacity upon your arrival,” he said, “Everyone is in their rooms right now.”
“Is that bar open?” I asked.
He looked at me strangely, “Excuse me?”
A loud beeping from his pocket interrupted me. He shuffled around to pull out a pager.
“Oh dear, okay, I’m sorry Madeline,” he said, putting down my bags, “but I won’t be able to escort you to your room. Here are your keys. You’re just right up those steps there, room 330.” He pointed to the spiral staircase across the room then ran off through a door behind the main desk.
I stood alone with my bags, staring into the fire for a moment. I was enamored by the place, although Ezra seemed a bit odd. How did he know my name already and exactly when I would arrive? Perhaps, he was just very passionate about his job. I shuffled the keys around in my hands and started up the stairs. My footsteps echoed off the wooden floor as I walked down the dimly lit hallway. I still hadn’t seen or heard another soul. The quiet made me uneasy, so I was relieved to finally arrive at my room, where I quickly locked the door behind me. It was an antique room with drapes surrounding the bed and a gorgeous Victorian bathtub standing alone in front of a window with a view of the autumn foliage. I drew myself a bath as I started unpacking my things. I always packed too much, but I was glad I brought my full-length, silk robe. I stripped down then slid my arms through the wide, delicate sleeves and tied the belt tightly around my waist, accentuating one of my only noteworthy features. I admired myself in the vanity mirror next to the tub. Oh, how romantic I looked in this place. I only wished I had a glass of wine.
When the tub was finally full, I gathered my long, brown hair into a bun on top of my head and slid out of my robe and into the scalding water- just how I liked it. I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent of hazelnut bath soap. I let my thoughts come and go without judgement, as I had learned in my meditation practices. Soon, I was in a state of zen, but then some unknown force pulled me out of it. I snapped my eyes open as fear crawled into my throat once again. I scanned the room and quickly laid eyes on a face in the vanity mirror. The warm bath water turned to ice, as I went numb with fear.
In the mirror was my own face, smiling at me with dull, lifeless eyes. I lashed around in the water, looking all around me, but no one was there. The sinister face began to laugh and move closer, as if she was going to extend right out of the mirror. A shriek expelled from my mouth as I jumped out of the tub, grabbed my robe, and ran straight out of the door. There, I stood dripping naked in the hallway. To my relief, the hall was still barren. I doubt anyone had even heard me scream. I wrapped the robe around myself and held a hand to my racing heart, listening intently through the door. I heard nothing from the unexpected guest in my room. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me again, maybe I had just dozed off in the tub and had a nightmare.
“It's okay, baby,” I cooed to myself, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” I comforted myself by rubbing my arms gently and whispering.
“Let’s go see about some wine,” I said to myself.
My breathing slowed as I walked down the hallway. At the top of the stairs, I could hear some signs of life for the first time at the Inn. When I came around the corner, there was a woman mixing a drink at the bar, facing away from me.
“Thank, God,” I said under my breath.
I walked over to the bar and took a seat. The woman was tall with broad shoulders accentuated by her jet-black bob. A floral tattoo design peaked through her off-shoulder top. She still stood away from me, shaking a drink over ice. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard me arrive, so I cleared my throat a little. At the sound, she whipped her head around. A gasp escaped my lips when I saw her feline face. She looked just like me, but without my flaws. Her skin was pore-less, her features perfectly symmetrical; she was everything I had ever wanted to be.
“Hey you,” she said, flashing me a devilish grin, “I was just fixing you a drink”.
“Wha-,” I stuttered, “How did you know?”
“Bulleit Rye and coke,” she said, “I remember.”
“I’m sorry, have we met?” I asked. Bulleit and coke was my drink of choice when I was younger. Maybe we did know each other. My memory wasn’t always the best.
She slid the drink towards me and laughed. “I can tell you’ve had a rough night, let me get you a towel.”
I looked down at myself and realized I was still dripping with bath water. Towel in hand, she walked around the bar, revealing the rest of her body. She wore high-waisted black jeans with chunky boots and walked towards me with authority. As she got closer, I could smell her aroma of citrus and cinnamon. She reached for my robe belt and slowly pulled it loose. Then she brushed her hands over my shoulders, dropping the robe to the ground, replacing it with a towel she flung over my back and across my chest. She pulled me closer to her as she wrapped the towel tighter around me. Grabbing my hands to replace hers on the towel, she picked up my drink from the bar and held it to my lips. I obeyed her every movement and sipped the whiskey, never glancing away from her beauty.
“My goal is to make you as comfortable as possible,” she said with a hint of sarcasm.
Everything about her was silky and smooth, the way her voice trickled into the air like warm chai tea- deep, but so soft with a pinch of cinnamon that tickled my throat. My mouth watered for her.
“I feel much better now. Thank you, um, what’s your name again?”
She giggled, “What do you think my name might be?”
“Um, I don’t know, something like Alice?”
She smiled, “Alice it is then,” she said, handing me my drink.
She then picked up my damp robe from the floor and took it over to the fireplace to dry. I followed her and sat in one of the leather chairs, sipping on my whiskey.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. The whiskey gave me the courage to say, “You could make yourself a drink as well and accompany me to my room. It’s awfully quiet up there.”
She grinned, “Of course. I’ll get us a bottle of wine to share. How about that?”
“That sounds delightful,” I said smiling. I really did feel fantastic. The fire and the whiskey rejuvenated me.
Alice grabbed the wine and followed me back up the stairs to my room, but I hesitated in front of the door, remembering the sinister face I thought I had seen in the mirror.
She grabbed the keys from my hand, “Allow me, sometimes these old doors are difficult to open.” She stuck the keys in the door and swung it open, guiding me in with a hand on my back.
I felt uneasy as I entered back into the room, but I decided to focus my attention on Alice, who was a beautiful distraction. She moved around the room with purpose, lighting candles and pouring us two lovely glasses of red wine. I was still dressed in only a towel, holding my damp robe in my hand. I walked over to the bed, avoiding all eye contact with the mirror, and hung my robe on one of the tall bed pillars. Then, I bent down to pull one of my suitcases out from under the bed in search of dry clothes, but a hand pushed the suitcase closed. Startled, I looked up into Alice’s face just inches from my own.
“There’s no need for that,” she exhaled the words into my mouth before kissing me softly.
She guided me upwards and I let my towel fall to the ground, exposing myself completely to her. Taking a step back, she stood silently, gazing at my body from head to toe. At that moment, I had completely forgotten about the mirror and all. She was awaiting my move.
I started towards her slowly. We were exactly the same height, staring into each other’s eyes. I reached under her loose fitting top and pulled it over her head, revealing an intricate cherry blossom tattoo creeping over her shoulder and down her back. She wore a lace bralette underneath, which I attempted to unfasten.
“That’s ambitious,” she growled, but her eyes gleamed with excitement that triggered an animalistic response inside me. I ripped the skimpy bralette off her and threw her onto the bed where I unbuttoned her jeans with fervor. Her soft, bare body glistened in the candle light, which was now the only source of light in the room. I finally had the courage to glance over at the dreadful mirror, but saw only darkness. Filled with relief, I bent over her to kiss her again, this time biting her lip. I grabbed a handful of her sleek black hair then traced my fingertips down her body, leaving a trail of goosebumps. And, when I finally tasted her, she let out a sigh that floated through the room. I watched as her dominant demeanor transformed into blissful vulnerability. Each shudder and sigh ringed victory in my ears. Late into the night, our minds grew tired, but our bodies still writhed and tangled around each other like worms in the earth. Just when I thought she’d finally fallen asleep, she would brush her fingers across my arm, sending jolts of energy through my body once again. I had forgotten all about that awful creature in the mirror.
A banging on the door startled me awake in the morning. I rolled over and saw my bed was empty. I scanned the room quickly, but Alice was gone. However, her clothes still laid crumpled on the floor. A heavy knock on the door shook through the room again. Disoriented, I stumbled out of bed to get my robe. Still naked, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror that had terrified me the day before. Now, I saw myself as usual, but I was glowing. My skin had cleared up and was that a tattoo? I turned around to find a cherry blossom tattoo covering my back and crawling up my shoulder- the exact tattoo Alice had…more banging on the door.
“Madeline, are you awake?” Ezra’s voice asked through the door.
My mind started racing, my breathing quickened. Why were her clothes still here? I thought.
“Umm,” I didn’t know if I should answer him in such a state of confusion.
“Madeline, you have to take your morning pills,” he said, becoming impatient.
“My what?” I asked as I scrambled to put on Alice’s clothes, which turned out to fit me perfectly.
“Madeline, you know you have to take your pills,” he said, “now we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. What kind of place was this? I ran to the window to see if I could possibly jump out without breaking my legs, but there was no use, it was too high.
“Okay Madeline, I’m coming in,” he said as keys jingled outside the door.
“Stay away from me!” I screamed. I started frantically looking around the room for anything I could use as a weapon, but there was nothing, perhaps out of design. Then, Ezra burst through the door with two larger men behind him wearing all white. He held a small paper cup containing two large pills.
“C’mon Madeline,” he pleaded, “just take these pills and I’ll let you be. You’ve been doing so well here.” He extended the cup towards me encouragingly.
“Who are they?” I asked pointing to the men in white.
“Oh, Madeline, we’re just trying to help you,” he pointed to the men individually, “This is Trevor and Adam, they mean you no harm. Remember last time?” he asked.
“No!” I shrieked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about! Leave me alone!”
Ezra leaned over to Adam and said under his breath, “I think she’s relapsed, this isn’t going to be easy.”
“Help!” I screamed, “Someone help me!” My breathing was getting out of control; I started to feel dizzy. When the men in white came at me I couldn’t keep them off. First, they grabbed my flailing arms and pinned me on the ground with my cheek to the floor directly in front of the mirror. It was then that I saw her again: Alice, a devilish grin shaking with laughter. Then, I saw Ezra’s reflection walking past the mirror, holding a sizable syringe. I writhed around violently, but I couldn’t get out of their grasps.
Ezra squatted down to look me in the eyes and say, “You’re just going to feel some pressure, then everything will be okay.”
I felt the cold syringe shoved deep into my neck, pumping me with lead. My throat was filling with an airy thickness, like I had swallowed all the oxygen in the room. I thought I was going to suffocate under the pressure, but the feelings faded into numbness. I saw Alice vanish from the mirror before I completely lost consciousness.
I awoke in a blinding, bright room. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that I was handcuffed to a hospital bed. Ezra stood over me holding a clipboard.
Noticing my waking, he said, “Sorry we had to restrain you again, Madeline,” he sighed, “I told you we could’ve done this the easy way.”