The Edge of Sanity

Writing Prompt: You are a housekeeper for a generic hotel in the middle of nowhere. A room has been booked for months and you have been hearing strange noises in there. The guests have asked not to be disturbed but you decide to go in anyway. The room is empty except for a shaft going deep underground.

Scarlet was a housekeeper at the Edge of Sanity. The hotel’s name was quite literal, in terms of its location. It had been built on the very edge of the lesser known city of New Sanity. New Sanity in itself was a haven, one of the few dead zones of the modern world. No signal, no wired or wireless connection, completely cut off. Well… there was electricity, of course, but only for the essentials; the lights, the dishwashers, the coin operated store-front rides… and that absurd statue of a Pumpkin on legs from last Halloween.

The Pumpkin was about twelve feet tall and two feet wide. Its legs were formed from vines that marched silently, moving up and down but never bringing the statue any further forward. A rather stupid looking grin made for half the Pumpkin’s face, and two enormous yellowed lights meant as eyes made for the other, though the left eye had some weeks ago gone dark.

This might have been strange to the outside world, had the outside world any way of knowing what exactly went on in New Sanity that is. There were strict rules against tweeting, instagramming, snapchatting or facebooking anything that happened in New Sanity. New Sanity was a world without phones, a detox from those toxic online communities… so you see strange was expected, but never shared.

Now the couple that had rented room 43, they’d left strange in the rear view mirror, that line in the sand marking the normal and the abnormal a distant memory to their tyre tracks.

What had they done, you ask?

When they had checked in, Sonja and Katrina had asked for absolute privacy. No one in, and no one out. Well that in itself was far from odd for the Edge of Sanity, there were always those couples requesting absolute privacy, though the request that no one was to leave… and the uproar that followed when they were refused a personal guard for the room, was a little peculiar.

Scarlet defused the situation by offering to tend only the second floor (on which room 43 resided) for the duration of their stay, meaning she would be able to keep watchful eye over their room to ensure no one in, and no one out.

That request had included Scarlet. She knew she was supposed to keep from prying in on Sonja and Katrina’s business… but the noise, the relentless sound of hammering on the walls (a Jack Hammer, Scarlet deduced by the tone) and the way the floor would shake from noon to about quarter past eight.

What in New Sanity is going on in there?

Scarlet had to investigate, for the good of the hotel, at least that’s what she’d told herself. There were cracks appearing round the door frame of 43, cracks that only she could see apparently, and that just wouldn’t do. So she waited, until just after noon when the shaking began, and with key in hand made her way to the room.

Knock, knock. 

“Look,” Scarlet began, shouting above the groaning of machinery, “I know I’m not supposed to disturb you, but the other guests have voiced concern over the level of noise… and the shaking.” a blatant lie, but honestly Scarlet had no idea what else to say.

Knock, knock. 

Still there came no answer.

“Right, I’m coming in.”

Push and click. Scarlet turned the key in 43’s lock, and slowly pressed the door open. The hall’s lights gave a flicker as she did so, enough to make Scarlet turn from the door to see what was happening. Nothing, of course. But an odd chill did flow past Scarlet’s shoulder in that moment. She gave a shudder, then pressed on inside, closing the door gently behind her.

The room was in utter darkness. The bed had been thrown up against the wall, the curtains were drawn duly shut, and the the mini bar (another essential electronically powered device) had been unplugged in favour of… a jack hammer?

Jesus Christ, I know that’s what it sounded like, but…

Suddenly Scarlet realised those cracks that only she could see were less than just a figment of a poorly constructed lie meant to gain access to the room. Fine lines covered the ceiling and the walls, throwing off light fixtures and overturning paintings. They converged in the centre of 43 where the bed should have been, only instead of a bed there was an enormous hole in the ground, within which lay a haphazardly constructed shaft that drove deep down below.

Scarlet tiptoed over to the gaping hole. 

I wanted to be a singer, did you know that? This job was meant to be temporary. Singing was… hell it is, my passion. And I’m good at it. Not great, mind you, but good. Good enough that I shouldn’t have to be dealing with this sh*t.

Kneeling down before the hole Scarlet could see a faint glimmer coming from somewhere far, far below. An orange tint that radiated off what might have been the shafts end, and then again it might not have been an end at all. Scarlet didn’t suffer from vertigo, but her stomach turned all the same as she gazed into that seemingly endless mouth of earth. Of course they’d chosen 43, which in itself was a blessing, the only room on the second floor that didn’t house guests below. There were store cupboards beneath the room, or at least there had been.

“Hello?” Scarlet called, cupping her hands to let her voice carry down. As soon as she finished speaking she threw her hands back to the ground, steadying herself. The room seemed to be spinning in the wake of the shaft, as if it was calling her into its depths.

It’s rude to stare, now won’t you join us for dinner?

All that returned from the shaft was the faint echoing of her own voice.

“Well, I took a peek, and this is none of my business. I’ll report back to management, they can deal with it. I don’t get paid nearly enough…” as Scarlet rose from her knees, dusting herself off, she had the sudden notion she was being watched.

“Where is it?” a voice called from behind Scarlet.

She froze. “Where is what?”

“Oh come now, don’t play dumb with me. Your sort are always taking what doesn’t belong, sneaking into rooms and carrying out whatever won’t be missed… at least not immediately missed, anyway.”

A flush of pride came over Scarlet, for reasons she couldn’t hope to explain. 

I’m not exactly proud of what I do here. But I’m not thief! 

“I didn’t taken a thing. Not once in all my time at the Edge have I taken anything from a guest’s room. And let me tell you, there have been times far more tempting than this!”

“Is that so.” Sonja licked her front teeth, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. She wasn’t a thing like Scarlet remembered. Standing in a vest and only her underwear Sonja revealed a body covered in what looked like tattoos, only the ink seemed to rot away the skin. There was a strange lopsidedness to Sonja’s shoulders, as if one was carrying something far heavier than the other. Her eyes were bright white in the dark, and her nails glowed a sickly greenish colour.

As Sonja smiled what looked like pale, lime-green ants could be seen scuttling along her tongue and down the back of her throat. “We asked for privacy, was that too much? We asked you watch the door, was that too difficult?” Sonja began slowly approaching Scarlet, making the housekeeper instinctively back up, back away, “What part of nothing in, and nothing out did you fail to understand?”

Scarlet came to a stop as she felt the lip of the shaft grace the heels of her feet, she stumbled, but she didn’t fall. “I’m sorry, okay. I’ll keep this to myself, I won’t tell management a thing. Just please, I’d like to leave now.”

“I would like that too, I really would. But first you’ll have to tell me where it is.”

“Where what is?” Scarlet felt a lump sticking in her throat as the all too real helplessness of her situation settled in.

This is it, this is the end. Oh, f*ck.

“There’s no need to play games.” Sonja settled a hand gently on Scarlet’s chest, the nails leering up at Scarlet’s face, “Just tell me where it is and I’ll let you go.”

“I don’t know.” Scarlet’s eyes broke free as tears began to stream her cheeks, “I… I just don’t know.”

Sonja gave a deep sigh, “A shame, a real shame. Perhaps Katrina will have more luck with you.”

Scarlet let loose a shrill, hair raising shriek as Sonja pushed her into the shaft. The world became a sudden blur as she was sent free falling through the darkness, her heart sinking to her stomach, body cruising toward the faint flicker of orange below. And from above a shower of florescent, lime-green lights came raining down.

This was the end, of that Scarlet was all but certain. And yet Sonja’s last words wrapped themselves horrifically around what little hope still held home in Scarlet’s mind…

Perhaps Katrina will have more luck with you.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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