Have you ever had a dream so warm and comfortable, that in your confused moments of awakening, you thought you were somewhere else? Somewhere familiar, a soft memory of a place where you were safe, protected, and taken care of. This morning the most beautiful, gentle light floated through the curtains, and I was certain for a fleeting, sweet, devastating moment that my mom was in the kitchen making buttery french toast, and my dad was flipping through channels in the next room. I was a child again, tucked into bed on some arcadian saturday where I could curl into my comic book blankets and sleep in.
And in an instant, I was awake. My mom was still as dead as she has been for the past twenty three years, and my dad was still as missing in action as he has been since I was thirteen. It’s that instance right there, right after that moment of pure bliss, that is that most heartbreaking thing to feel. You aren’t there. You’re here, in this dark ceaseless world where you stretch yourself out like a cheap piece of vinyl just waiting to snap. I failed that child that curled into his bed on weekend mornings. I’m not there. I’m not even here. I am a 187 pound weight lying in an empty bed, in a room out of three hundred that all look the same, here with these ghosts.
The Empress Hotel isn’t as regal as she used to be. When the old man who built this place got to work in 1924, he imagined it would be the talk of Los Angeles. He thought that the richest folk from all over would flock here, that it would be a ritzy, lavish place with champagne popping and music roaring nearly everyday. When it opened in 1927, it was just in time for The Great Depression, and people had trouble feeding themselves much less pay top dollar for a shimmering new grand hotel. Now look at this place. For the past few decades it was a game of keeping the lights on with drug addict money and turning a blind eye to a revolving door of sex work. These days, I use a little strategy, mix that rabble with ghost hunters and tourists who want a gander at the place where over 127 people have died- that we know of.
It’s not glamorous. It isn’t what mom thought I would do with her inheritance, nor was it what that sleeping child I used to be ever dreamed of doing. But there’s something about this place, something that made me trade my wife and kids for the keys to this old building and a bar full of shitty liquor so long ago. Nevermind the people that go missing, the shadows in the hallways and the screams in the night. These creaky elevators sing a song to me, the old marble floors shine like dull diamonds and the ping of that bell on the front desk still makes my heart smile. I think I know why, maybe it occurred just this morning, but all these rejects that pass through the doors? They’re coming into my house, tired and looking for a bed. I’m just trying to give them that one moment in the morning, that one moment where time travel is possible and the calmest, most beautiful moment of your life comes through in one precious little blip before you blink away sleep and return to reality.
The Empress Hotel - Present Day
Today is a new day, and the hotel waits, a still hungry monolith soaking up the rising sun on its glass and brick scales. Walter glides around the front desk towards the antique key rack, adjusting his maroon tie nervously- there are seven keys missing today, and just as always, the glass display cabinet is still closed and locked just as it had been the night before. Fumbling, he dips a finger behind his collar and touches the chain around his neck that holds the key- the key to the keys. Walter had the cabinet installed twelve years ago to protect them, to stop this from happening, yet still they sneak themselves away to God knows where. He broke into a cold sweat and stood there muttering to himself as he pulled at the sliding glass door over and over again to see if it was indeed broken, for that in itself would have been a relief, but it would not move. He knew, though he didn’t want to acknowledge it, exactly what was happening and the preparations that would need to be made.
“Señor Bell.” A quiet, thick Spanish accent spoke almost in a whisper. Walter stared at the floor for a moment longer than he should have, then turned and looked at Honoria’s stone-like face, her eyes staring into his. “I will prepare the rooms. Cuídate, señor Bell.” Like a gentle breeze, she had come and gone and he was left alone to wonder if any of this was even real, or just a nightmare on repeat. What had he done to deserve this, he pondered for the thousandth time. And these poor people, what about them pleased the old building? Perhaps a certain flavor, a taste it could not resist? At any rate, the ritual would need to begin, and he would have to receive each guest and ensure they met him in the hotel bar by 8pm- there was no other choice.
♕ Interaction: Open
♔ Mention: Walter Bell
♘ Mood: Apprehensive, but hiding it well.
"A Manhattan dear, please." Akosua relaxed back into an empty bar stool and placed a manila envelope onto the counter. The bartender, a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair nodded and strode away to make her cocktail. The bar was a decent size, it had great bones- but if the lights were turned up it would have been evident that it badly needed renovation and was more of a facade of class than the actual thing. Aged wallpaper, worn out upholstery and the unmistakable smell of centuries old cigarette smoke mixed with potpourri, the perfume of an ancient place. A few acrylic fixtures held pamphlets on ghost sightings and points of interest, grainy stretched images of specters on the front, obviously made by an amateur. A dim space with a few booths, tables, and a long and well polished bar, Akosua really had imagined worse.
It was of some comfort to know that not just any riff-raff could wander in, only paying guests were allowed but then again that wasn't something to be proud of considering the dismal room rates. She crossed her legs and checked the time on her phone as her drink was slid down in front of her, 7:45 pm. Walter Bell, the hotel manager, said he would meet her there at 8:00 pm, and it wasn’t much longer now. "Thank you dear, it looks fabulous!" She beamed him a warm smile. Akosua regarded the room again, taking in every minute detail in its emptiness, her mind wandering. In honesty, she was exhausted and confused. She had flown in just yesterday after receiving a truly horrifying postcard in the mail that appeared to be penned by her late husband, who at that moment she was sure was buried six feet deep and likely skeletal.
At first she had considered that it may have been a prank, an elaborate hoax by the hotel to drum up business, but it didn't make sense. Akosua made a living out of making sense of things, solving mysteries and answering questions, but this time she was at a loss. How would some washed up spook hotel know the pet name her husband called her by? How could they replicate his handwriting? Why even reach out to a random person on the other side of the country? But if they hadn't… who did? She turned slightly to eye the entrance to the bar. There was the matter of the woman who reached out to her a week ago regarding her missing sister, an employee of the hotel that vanished. She hadn't outright refused the case, but maybe the woman was deranged and wanted to force the private eye there as quickly as possible.
Further, Akosua was generally well liked, but she did have enemies. Had some maniac from her past concocted an insane plan to draw her there? In the end, she had agreed to take the woman’s missing person case and had compiled the relevant documents on the way to the hotel, and had spent most of her evening in her ramshackle room researching. It was a bottomless pit of information, from news articles to wild conspiracy theories about the hotel in general, and all of it had given her a very bad feeling about the place that she was trying to quell with alcohol. Akosua had never been to such a sinister, seedy place and certainly not alone, and she felt it deeply. She hadn’t told anyone but her client where she was going, she didn’t want to have to explain herself to her friends and family- she could barely explain it to herself, that she was following a cryptic postcard to a haunted hotel under the guise of working some poor woman’s case? That she felt like maybe Victor was alive, or at least some phantom visage of him? She took a sip of her Manhattan and reassured herself in her mind: just keep going. Eventually, even the finest tapestry will unravel when you pull on enough threads.
♖ OOC: Feel free to post! If we can all congregate in the bar, we can get this party started.
"The building in front of me is the one and only Empress Hotel, Los Angeles' crowning jewel, the final proof that we'd made the climb from Spanish village to international metropolis. Built during the stock market boom of 1927, the Empress fits the same Beaux-Arts style that you'd see in the temples of finance downtown. But its fate was tied to their fate, and when the stock market crashed, so did the hopes and dreams of -- you know, this is maybe too hokey even for me."
Camila lowered her recorder and frowned. What was the tone they were going for here? She raised the recorder again.
"Break. Miles, are we going for dramatic or spooky here? I thought we were going for spooky, but this script isn't going to cut it. Whatever, anyway, we'll tweak it in production like we usually do. Let me just jump ahead a bit. Alright, three, two one ... The history of the Empress seems to mirror the history of the city. The Great Depression left it without income, and without a purpose. Raymond Chandler ended up here for a week after he finally drank himself out of a job, but before he picked up a pen. There's a rumor that Aimee Semple McPherson stayed here during one of the romantic assignations that complicated her ministry ... Break, Miles, can you check the source on that McPherson fact? I think our dates are off. And I also think that "assignation" is too high brow for our audience. 'Dick date' might be better, but you'll have to get someone else to say it."
She glanced around her. It said something about the neighborhood that a woman in business casual standing in the middle of the sidewalk talking into a microphone didn't attract any attention. L.A. was jaded, but still, most people had their eye on the media. Somebody should be trying to figure out what show she was with.
"Alright, Miles, I'll send this along. I'll try to get some footage from the inside and grab some exterior shots tomorrow morning. Just ... don't expect much. This place looks run down, and not in a picturesque way. I have a feeling this episode could be sad rather than spooky."
With a few keypresses, Camila sent the audio file uploading to the cloud. She slung her camera-bag over her shoulder and marched towards the tarnished doors of the once-great Empress Hotel. The interior was dimly lit, a bit dusty, empty. Warm, but hollow. She checked the postcard for the hundredth time - no time, no contact details, she'd just have to ask someone. The only movement she could see was over at the bar. She wandered over to the bartender.
Brent shuffled his briefcase over his legs and onto the free seat behind the driver.
"Where to, sir?" the driver repeated, louder, and with an emphasis that broke through his thick Punjabi accent.
Brent reached for a seatbelt over his shoulder, but found only the thin cloth veneer of the seat. Just as he shifted to look behind him, his fingers brushed against the plastic of the dangling buckle. The slick, glue-like coating sweated into his palm.
"The Empress Hotel, please."
The driver turned around, his wide, greying beard condensing into and around his shoulder. He looked Brent up and down, glanced to the briefcase. "I know a good place, only a little more pricey, okay?"
Brent shook his head, just a smidge. "No, that's quite alright. Just take me to the Empress."
The driver, with an exaggerated resignation, shrugged back around to the front and put his hands on the wheel. They flowed into traffic.
Brent adjusted the resting of his watch. A thin piece, intricate crafting hidden behind a pearlescent backing. Delicate hands slid smoothly around the hour. Quarter past seven.
He was thoroughly ready to sleep, regardless of the quality he found in this cheap room that waited for him.
Or maybe to sleep somewhere nicer, he thought. A survey of the hotel - the lobby, a momentary talk with this manager, a gleaning of the briefest history - he was tempting himself and he knew it. The flight had been exhausting, and void of diversions, save for his own thoughts. He would whet the appetite, perhaps, and then retire for the night.
"What are you doing in LA?"
Brent looked up to catch the driver glancing between him in the mirror and the scattered road ahead.
"Personal interest," he replied. "Doing some research for a hobby of mine."
They passed a walking tour crossing an adjacent intersection. Their cheap red rain-gear all carried the same white slogan. Be LA!
"Research, eh? About the hotel?"
"No," Brent replied, to keep his answer simple. The lane beside them was stopped as they rushed past. He looked back to the driver's mirror. "What do you know about it?"
"Oh, big place for tourists, right now. Every couple weeks, I hear someone's been there. Overrated, they say. Just an old building."
"Spoke to one guy, though, my buddy, he worked here a long time." The taxi jostled with a bump in the road. Brent steadied himself against the door, his other hand keeping the briefcase still. "Says to me, first day on the job, 'Vik, you never drive to the Empress Hotel, okay?' I ask him why. He says, back in the 90s, he's driving around that neighbourhood. Used to be a real bad place back then, you know? But he was new on the job, someone had to work it. So he's driving up past the hotel and this woman comes running out, blonde hair all done up like that beauty star, dressed all in white. He picks her up. No luggage, no purse, nothing. She gets in, and he just starts to drive. Said he didn't even wait for her to tell him where, he just drove, she's shivering in the back of the car, drenched head to toe, he's just driving. He starts glancing back up in the mirror, keeps waiting for her to say something, but he's not going to ask because she's looking half-crazy, you know? Finally, she just falls back into the seat, looks up out the window, and laughs. Like a real big laugh, you know? So then he stops looking at her, because he's thinking she's going to notice, not good. And he's watching the roads while she's breathing and shifting in the backseat and the rain's falling everywhere. And then he sees up ahead of him is the Empress again, and he doesn't remember making that turn at all, but there's this building with half its lights out, big and tall, the front clear as day. No one's there. My buddy, he slows down cause he's trying to remember where he turned, he knows this part of town well at that point, but he just can't remember at all where he was driving. Happens, sometimes, you know? You just start driving, just turning, right? And he's slowing down, right to a stop, and he looks up in the mirror, and she's looking right back at him, and they don't look away. She just stares at him with this really mad look, like she's gonna tear his eyes out or something, that's how much she hates them. They're just like that for a minute."
As they turned a corner onto a smaller street, the driver kept staring out the mirror at Brent.
"Then she just leans over, opens up the door, and steps right out, right back in front of the hotel. My buddy never even looked back, just drove away, started working a different block the next day."
Brent watched as they passed an empty lot. Rotting old lumber was piled along the concrete wall beside the trash.
"Worst part, though?" The driver grinned. "He realizes next day, she never even paid her toll!"
"Ah," Brent said, as the driver laughed. "Well I assure you that won't be a problem here."
"No, no worries, sir. Not about you."
"Of course, yes." Brent leaned over to look between the headrests of the frontseats. Up ahead, boxed in by the city that had grown up and died around it, the Empress Hotel stood warden over its grounds, a colossal looming weight that seemed to float just out of reach of the grim that lived between the streets.
"Right here," he said, sharply.
"Yes, I think I'll walk."
"As you like, sir," the driver shrugged, and pulled to a stop between two husks. Brent paid, and stepped outside, briefcase in hand.
He stood a moment, watching. There was a girl stood there, speaking to the air, something clutched before her. Filming something for Facebook, Brent realized, after a time. As he watched, she turned, seeming to take in the building from its shadow. Then she disappeared inside.
He followed to where she had been, right there, in front of the building. He tried to imagine what a camera would see. Would it tell a good story? Or was this just another old block of wood and steel?
Out here, it was impossible to tell.
He carried his briefcase up the steps, and through the old regal doors that barricaded this place from the outside world.
The interior was... clean. An assortment of people were there in the bar, on the far side. Brent moved to the closer desk, unattended as it seemed, and looked around for a bell to call reception.
Work was an escape for Walter. In the whirl of goings on during the day he could bury his thoughts comfortably, pulled to and fro by guests, staff and the daily string of skid row related foolery that had become commonplace. Even on a day like today, he could still distract himself in the throng of his duties, and this had always been an indication of abnormality as he became even more of a caricature of hospitality. Everyone was getting special attention, he was doing menial guest services himself, surveying the buffet and visiting tables, he even shined the golden bell at the front desk which was seeing more of him that day than ever before. There was a peculiar desperation in his effort to be everywhere at once firing at all cylinders, it was something that only his experienced staff could detect and it made them nervous, even jumpy. When an elderly man approached the front desk close to 8 o' clock, however, it was empty. The receptionist was helping a lady with directions near the entrance, pointing this way and that and gesturing towards a printed out map of the area. Walter was on an elevator headed down, and when the elevator doors slid open and revealed the front desk and the figure of the man, the air seemed to shift. To him, it seemed like time went backward for a moment as he stared stoically at the figure- and he began to ever so slightly grind his teeth, his fingers twitching at his sides. How much time passed? The doors refused to close, though they certainly should have.
This one, he knew, had an invitation. If he couldn't see it quite directly, he could smell it, sense it in the air. The hotel told him, singing its ancient siren song and beckoning him over, a wash of whispers in his ears. For a moment he questioned why someone so old, pity and guilt unfurling in his chest. In that man he saw a slight reflection of himself, surely the elderly had paid their dues? What could the old girl see in him, a fellow of such age? Suddenly a sharp venomous hiss erupted in his mind: R I P... E. He was ripe.
The golden bell on the counter pinged just then, all by itself seemingly. Walter, as if awoken from a dream, blinked rapidly and then emerged from the elevator, striding to the counter confidently. He swung around it and with a brilliant smile appeared opposite the man. "It's a pretty sound, isn't it? My apologies my good sir, welcome to the Empress Hotel! Are you checking in? Business or pleasure?" His voice was deep, rich and velvety, a quality that easily could have been used for recording audiobooks or narrating in films. He was dressed in a smart black suit with a white dress shirt and a silky maroon coloured tie. His grey white facial hair was neatly groomed, just enough to lend him character but not at all subtracting from his professional air. Despite this though, his heart was thumping like a war drum inside his chest, clawing at his insides.
♕ Interaction: Humble1
♔ Mention: Walter Bell
♘ Mood: Still apprehensive, but intrigued and a little relieved.
Just as Akosua finished the last of her drink, a young woman entered the bar. Her dark eyes surveyed the girl, taking in her stride, posture, fashion, and overall bearing. It took her all of two seconds to clock the camera bag over her shoulder, and the business casual look lent more professionalism than a tourist would have. Her age and overall confidence suggested she was not a student, so the private eye deduced that she must be in some kind of media type role, perhaps a smaller news station, as there didn't seem to be any other crew members. She listened with a smile and regarded her with a relaxed ease that was friendly, not overbearing, as she approached bar and asked for a Howard Bell- did she mean Walter? Did Walter perhaps have a son or brother? She hadn't even thought to ask beforehand, but looked at the barkeep curiously, wondering how he would respond.
"Hello miss. Howard? There isn't a Howard working here, you must mean Walter Bell, the hotel manager? He's been all over the place today- but he isn't here." The bartender spoke calmly, but had a new intensity in his eyes that struck Akosua as odd- and he seemed to be sweating, something else that caught her attention. Was he nervous? It could be a normal reaction to a pretty lady, but in his line of work it was certainly unusual. Akosua hadn't mentioned Walter beforehand to him, maybe he didn't like the resourceful hotel manager? Whatever it was, she was very intrigued and watched him as his eyes darted from the newcomer to the counter.
"Are you looking for Mr. Bell, dear? Well, he should be here soon, we have a little meeting planned for 8 o' clock, maybe you can catch him beforehand? I don't imagine a man like him would want to miss anybody with a camera." She laughed warmly and then rested back in her seat comfortably. She didn't mind Walter speaking with her first, Akosua had nothing but time on her hands and was naturally curious to know what she was working on. "Could I have one more, please? I must say, he's a lucky man to have beautiful women waiting for him. Are you a journalist?" She probed delicately as she ordered another cocktail casually. This was of course a very strategic question, if she was a journalist than there might be some useful exchange of information. Perhaps above all though, she was relieved to have someone else there, even if they were complete strangers, and the feeling strengthened immensely as the bartender gripped her empty glass shakily and stood there for a moment staring at it in complete silence. Akosua, admittedly taken aback, cleared her throat gently and the man turned away briskly and left the two there. "Men, am I right? Would you like to join me? He won't be long." She chimed and chuckled again, gesturing to the empty stool beside her and moving her Manila envelope aside.
Camila squinted at the attractive woman calling out to her, her eyes not quite adjusted to the dim interior. Somehow it seemed darker in here than it should. Like the windows weren't allowing the last of the evening sun to venture in.
"I believe I am." Camila gestured absently with the postcard, "He invited me here, but I'm afraid there wasn't time to establish any details." Like the terms of this little arrangement. He was most likely expecting publicity. Did he expect only positive press? Some people never bothered to listen to the show before offering. You'd think a name like "Beautiful Decay" would tip them off.
"I must say, he's a lucky man to have beautiful women waiting for him. Are you a journalist?"
Camila smiled at the flattery. She had no delusions that her off-the-rack pantsuit was all that flattering. But after wrecking several of her favorite dresses while crawling around old buildings she refused to wear anything she cared about to a story.
"A journalist? Only in the broadest of terms. I work for an online video series about historic L.A. architecture."
Architecture where brutal murders had occurred, usually. But, hey, everybody's got to have a hook, right?
"Mr. Bell invited me here to cover the Empress Hotel. I hope I'm not intruding on your time. If he had an appointment with you, I can easily wait. We don't even have a deadline set for this episode."
Camila took a seat near the woman. She wasn't sure what the woman's story was, but right at that moment, she didn't want to be alone in the Empress. The shadows in here seemed more substantial than they should be, more real than the building itself. The emptiness, and the reaction of the bartender, just underlined the oppressive feeling.
"Yes, er, hello." Brent split his glances between the man and the golden bell - the bell he felt almost certain hadn't been there when he'd looked a second before. Something, however, had produced that ding, that 'beautiful sound', as the man called it. Brent, however, was not gauging the sound's beauty.
He shook his head, focused back to the man.
"Sorry. Yes. Yes, I believe I should have a booking, under Hound. Brent Hound." He paused. It felt like a natural pause, but it was a dangerous one. In the pause, he glanced back to the bell that rang; he saw the glimmer of incandescent lights; he saw the cracks in the polished old wood. He saw himself reflected on the curved golden veneer, saw himself standing there, one arm across the counter, staring off - waiting. He looked back to the man. "Actually, if it's not a trouble, could you find the manager for me? Mr. Archie Walker, that is."
Immediately, Walter began typing away at the terminal behind the counter. Why he did this he was not sure, perhaps a force of habit, as there was no need to check this man in. He was already checked in, he had been entered into the hotel's endless ledger, a record driven into its walls stretching back almost a hundred years. He stopped though at the mention of the name, Archie Walker? Archie Walker. Walter looked at the computer screen, a peculiar look of confusion washing over him that was slowly replaced by amusement.
Archie Walker? He chuckled to himself and continued typing. "Ah, yes, Mr. Brent Hound! You're staying in one of our specialty suites! Oh, Brenda, could you please finish up his check in?" the receptionist had returned to the desk, a middle aged woman with dark brown hair coiled into a tight bun. She nodded and stepped in as Walter moved around the counter. "Mr. Hound! I would love to take you to Archie Walker, he's what you could call a staple around here, I always know where to find him." Walter led the man towards the bar, which was fairly close in proximity to the front desk. Brenda watched nervously, her mouth curved into a frown as they left. On the screen was a word document on which "welcomemisterhound" was typed over and over again, and continued typing itself out many pages down without end.
To the left of the bar entrance was a bronze plaque, well maintained and etched with the portrait of a mature man, his hairline beginning to recede. He had a thin moustache, high cheekbones and an angular jawline, but most striking were his dark eyes and thick brows that gave him a very intense look. Underneath this, the plaque read:
Original Owner, Empress Hotel
1890 - 1958
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
"Here he is, sir. Well, what we have of him. Not many folk inquire about poor old Mr. Walker these days. Are you a historian, sir? I'm the current manager, my name is Walter Bell, at your service." charisma pouring, he outstretched a hand to Brent and beamed him another overly friendly smile as the bronze artwork stared out at them with an icy coldness.
♕ Interaction: Humble1
♔ Mention: Walter Bell
♘ Mood: Curious, but getting nervous.
No time to establish details? Akosua's eyes followed the woman's hand as she displayed a piece of cardstock, and suddenly a chill went up her spine. Even with just a quick gesture, she recalled the postcard she received, it had the same design- south from 6th street long ago, some artists vision of Broadway put to paper that had long since yellowed and discoloured. She had analysed the postcard thoroughly, searching online for its origins, the artist, the printer, anything… but had found nothing. She had even swabbed the spots of what appeared to be blood on the front and sent them away for testing, awaiting results. A small minute detail had presented itself however, that didn't seem to be part of the original artwork. There in the dark street toward the bottom of the card, "Hosea 13:16" barely visible.
Akosua had looked up the verse from the book of Hosea, but after a few too many hours of dredging up news articles and police reports she hadn't had a chance to really mull it over, and couldn't even recall what it was in the moment. She was extremely curious though, and wanted badly to see the woman's postcard, to make sure it was the same before jumping to any conclusions. A part of her wanted to share her own, which was tucked in the envelope beside her amidst her casefile, but the sight of the message scrawled on it might send her right out the door. Best to be careful… "Oh my, is that the invitation? My goodness, I adore old postcards! I received one as well. Do we have the same one?" She carefully opened the manila envelope and slid out her own postcard to display the artwork on top, leaving about a quarter of it still inside the lip of the envelope to dissuade her guest from picking it up. If offered, she could see if the same verse was stamped onto the front- and hopefully any other chilling messages that may have been written.
Besides this, she learned that the woman was working on an online video series about architecture? Well, Akosua doubted that details about inlaying and archways would help her missing person case, but why cover the old hotel? Certainly there were nicer places to visit in the area. Her eyes traveled to the ghostly pamphlets at the center of the bar. It occurred to her then, maybe they had a darker, paranormal theme to their show? Akosua decided she would take her shot. "How interesting! What is the name of your show? I must admit, I am a bit of a layman when it comes to architecture. I will say though, I'm surprised this old place is still around. It's like being in a time machine, if only the walls could talk." She grinned again, looking around the bar once more.
"What stories they could tell. You see, I'm here investigating a missing persons case. In fact, the reason I am meeting Mr. Bell is to ask him a few questions. Please don't worry dear, I can certainly wait, we may take a while and I'm sure you'd rather not linger around here." She returned her gaze to her company, but felt like there was someone else watching them, or maybe like the room was getting smaller.
Brent followed the man, not quite matching his speed, but not needing to given the short distance travelled. He spared a brief glance for the receptionist who took to the counter, the wrinkles on her small face jutting out with a tension that seemed to overcome her despite her best efforts to refrain. She frowned, and so did he, looking back to the man leading him, away from him to the bartender, back crouched, head hung low despite his height. At the bar were too women, too. They seemed... aware. Something reserved in them, even as they sat and drank. There was no laughter in this place, and that felt right. Aside from the man leading him these short few feet into the building, there seemed very clearly to be no liveliness at all. It was a place of dying. Dying hopes, dying dreams...
Dying men, Brent thought, and looked at the bust.
Original Owner, Empress Hotel
1890 - 1958
"I'm sorry, is this... some kind of practical joke? Or..." He looked deeper, into the bust.
Darkness burrowed out of the eyes of that unseeing thing. Still curves were borne of metal and lay barren on his brow, his nose, unbroken, unbreakable, useless. The thing that was the remnant of the man did not stare, he did not breathe, he did not think; he was, right there before them, and he would be, just there, staring forever at the doors that the man had surely waited on with baited breath in life.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
68, Brent thought. I've beat you there, for now.
Archibald Walker, dead. Dead?
"Nevermind that," Brent waivered, after the briefest of long moments. He gave his hand to the living manager, but kept his eyes on the deceased. "I'm not a historian, Mr. Bell. Not by trade, that is, though it can be difficult to avoid our histories, can't it?"
"Oh my, is that the invitation? My goodness, I adore old postcards! I received one as well. Do we have the same one?"
Camila gingerly placed the slightly creased postcard on the table. Her producer, Miles, had found it shoved in the mail slot of the studio. It hadn't gone to their "official" postbox, but then they'd never tried to keep anything secret. Someone must have found the studio address online.
"Here we go. It wouldn't surprise me if someone had bought them in bulk, back in the day." Back in the day when the place had money, she didn't say. "The only thing I can't figure out is this bit. If you run your finger here - " she did just that along the bottom corner - " it's like someone typed something on a typewriter without a ribbon. I think it's a Bible reference - Gospel of Matthew."
But the name 'Matthew' was upside down -- each letter was upside down individually. Why would you do that? How would you do that? If the number was upside down, then it was Matthew 13:50, the verse about "weeping and gnashing of teeth". That had sent a chill through her. She was guessing whoever typed it hadn't been making a reference to the old academic joke about "to those without teeth, false teeth will be provided."
"I guess that someone was using it as a pad while typing," Camila finished, somewhat lamely.
"How interesting! What is the name of your show?"
"Uh ... we mainly deal with older architecture that is ... abandoned." And creepy. And surrounded by rumors. And not owned by anyone who can sue. "So the name is 'Beautiful Decay'."
She's argued against the name, but Miles had eventually worn her down. At least it was better than his first suggestion, 'Archi-torture'. It was an old joke, in bad taste, and no. Just, no.
"Abandoned architecture is hot right now -- you know, "Mysteries of the Abandoned" on the Travel Channel and all that. We don't usually go with buildings that are still in use, but when Mr. Bell offered, we had to take him up."
"You see, I'm here investigating a missing persons case. In fact, the reason I am meeting Mr. Bell is to ask him a few questions. Please don't worry dear, I can certainly wait, we may take a while and I'm sure you'd rather not linger around here."
Camila blinked at that. That was not how she'd expected this conversation to go. "Oh, no, I mean ... that's certainly more important than my business. Please, don't let me get in your way." Was this person a PI? A family member of someone missing? "If there's anything I can do to help -- you know, we're part of a pretty broad podcast network, we could pass the word around, maybe get it out over the internet. Uh ... who is missing?"
theo devereaux -- the drug dealer
location: the empress; the bar interactions: none so far, open to any mood: curious? apathetic?
As much as he wanted to disappear into the bottomless abyss of nothingness, Theo couldn't. He didn't have the courage nor the gall to, especially knowing that he'd still be leaving behind family. His mother, fellow drug addicted brother, and a sister who -- unabashedly -- left them behind to live the high life in Cancun. The man couldn't blame her, though. It was better than living a meaningless life with a menial job that could barely keep her afloat; she did what she could for herself, and Theo was the same. Granted, they were two completely different lives lived, but fulfilling in their own right -- that's what Theo liked to convince himself, at least. He didn't anticipate for life to go this way, though; daydreaming about the day he'd eventually get clean, end up being a real functioning member of society, but life wouldn't always go the way you want it.
Theo liked to think that he had it; what with his multiple run-ins with the law, the fact that he could conquer any druggy in his wake -- hell, he could even thank his childhood. Sure, it was rocky, rockier than others, but he made it work. Not that it mattered, the man liked to shove the memories as far back as he could, away from his everyday consciousness, no matter how hard it was. It was only a matter of time before it caught up with him. But that didn't matter now; business was booming and with the gleaming proposition from a prospective client of his, Theo knew he'd be raking in the dough -- at least, that's what he thought his venture would turn into. Color him enthusiastic, more than he'd felt in years; a deal like this made his mouth water at the thought.
But he couldn't help but wonder: why the hell did Andy reach out?
Theo didn't talk to the guy much, only for transactions; even then you'd think the man would've caught on to the fact that the only reason Theo was so nice, was because he just wanted to grab some cash and go. He knew he worked at the hotel, but they weren't close enough for job offers -- not that he was complaining. Theo wouldn't protest against the possible cash grab, not at a time in his life where he had to rebuild. And what better way than to work out of a sketchy hotel? Of course, the place had its fair share of rumors, but they weren't enough to keep him away; money was money, the world surrounded it, and Theo wouldn't dare turn down an opportunity for a taste of it. The cash, the clientele, hell he could even have a nice place to stay; a nice change from his drab, messy apartment. Best of all? Transactions would be clean and the cops wouldn't suspect a thing, at least that was what was promised. In a sea of people, one would think they could spot a junkie; Theo didn't make it easy. His hair, albeit messy, still looked put together much like the rest of him. No one would ever suspect that a guy like him was selling and doing drugs, especially not to his degree. Was he proud of it? Maybe a little, but it was all that he knew. With a childhood like his, the vivid memories of drugged up parents and equally drugged up siblings, Theo thought that was the norm. At least, for him.
Was he especially excited? No, the man's firm wave of apathy didn't allow it. But he could act like it, it was better than nothing; he figured: if he faked it long enough, maybe it could happen. What was interesting was the sheer weight of his envelope; heavier than the average parcel, its contents being a worn out golden key that, admittedly, he had no idea what to do with. To say the least, the item gave him a sense of intrigue -- not enough for him to become more inquisitive than he already was -- or wasn’t. The man couldn’t care less about its meaning, it most likely only being the key to a further dilapidated room, possibly covered in cobwebs, maybe even black mold if they were fancy.
"The Empress, eh? Pretty--"
"Sketch? Yeah, I know. Don't worry about it," Theo couldn't pry his eyes away from the post card nestled in his calloused hands, fingers running over the ridges of the imprinted design. What thoughts were going on behind his hazel orbs? Nothing, not a single thing; not that he was stupid, but because what else was there to think about? The man had a solid business structure, one that he was sure he couldn't manage to mess up, not even if he went to somewhere like the Empress. He gulped, pursing his lips as he finally tucked it away into the inside pocket of his jacket; the dark circles under his eyes, creasing, were indicative of his lack of sleep -- he couldn't and wouldn't sleep -- refusing to when he had the chance.
Bad memories always had a way of creeping up on you no matter what. Not even the drugs could numb him. Death was a smell that was heavily present in his stream of consciousness, all too familiar, all too -- no. No, Theo worked hard to forget about it. Dwelling on the thought now would do him no good. He pushed the thought away, shaking his head as he stared off, trying to find something else to occupy his being. What type of people would he even encounter? Bodies went in and out of the hotel like clockwork, people from all walks of life making their stay, making him all the more curious. He didn’t like being curious. Never liked it, in fact. Theo hated being on his toes all the time, not knowing what the fuck he was going to run into, but he thought it was worth the try.
The taxi driver tried having small talk, another thing Theo hated; he knew he didn’t really care, only wanting a hefty tip at the end of the trip. Probably the type raised on kissing ass to get by. But who was he to judge? It was still an honest living, even if their intentions were less than honest. A deafening silence ensued once the driver finally got the message after a few short, phlegmatic responses that should've stopped the conversation way earlier on -- much to his dismay, the driver was more persistent than the average person.
Without another word, Theo felt the car come to a halt, man already collecting his things -- pulling on a pair of wire framed, red sunglasses. If he was going to make an impression, he might as well look good doing it -- even if it meant covering up his horrendous dark circles. Dollar bills were flicked from his wallet, neatly placed on the passenger's seat, a nice tip for dealing with his silence. He could tell the driver was a talker, so succumbing him to the eerie silence must've torture. There was, finally, a thank you; however, behind it was a mixture of emotions, annoyance, concern, Theo couldn't place his finger on it nor did he care enough to dissect it. Dismissing himself from the cab, the man had finally hauled his way in.
Grand to say the least, still a bit sketchy due to its predisposed reputation, but a sight for sore eyes.
The structure, although old, still had a charm to it; creepy, but still charming. An influencer's dream, in fact, he had no doubt that one would pop up at some point. Tired eyes scanned the area, at one point tightening the grip of the duffel bag lazily strewn over his shoulder, contents nearly breaking the cheap zipper open. "Bar, huh? Now where the fuck could that be?" His raspy voice lingered in the air as he failed to censor himself, searching for any sign of where the hell the bar could be. The heaviness in his jacket pocket was noticeable, but much like his intrusive thoughts, he opted to ignore it; what was more important was getting himself to the bar to talk business. "God dammit, I can't see shit with these red lenses," muttering to himself, the man pulled the specs off, tucking them onto the collar of his shirt, light clicking sounding off from them.
At least he was somewhat early, business does that to a person.
After what seemed like an eternity of searching, Theo finally found the bar; it was lifeless, unlike the ones he frequented -- the ones bustling with life, laughter, some semblance of life. There were only a select few that stood out, while the rest of its patrons seemed robotic, it was almost eerie -- that was, if he cared enough to examine them further. He sat himself down in a bare seat, slouching over, placing one hand against the counter while the other ran through his messy, brown locks. Upon first glance, one would think he was having a bad day, but frankly, that was just how he looked. And he intended to keep it that way, no degree of criticism would've staved him away from his look; in fact, he was a fan of the 'half-dead, but still hot' look.
A bright, flashy smile placed itself upon his lips as he looked at the bartender, only asking for a simple whisky on the rocks. Tempted to rip a line right then and there, the man refrained, looking around the premises. His fingers tapped against the counter top, dull thuds accompanying the sound of clinking glasses and soft conversations. He looked over his shoulder, admiring the fixtures, placing a toothpick between his lips to chew, "swanky. Not as creepy as I thought."
"Yes sir, that is true." for a moment, Walter looked at the bronze plaque thoughtfully. Avoiding history? He had spent many years doing just that, to the point that his own past was blurry in his mind- and he wasn't sure if it was from age or something else, something scarier, something he didn't want to think about. At times he felt out of touch with reality, having difficulty telling what had occurred and what hadn't, what was really in front of him and what was... not. "It's been written that Mr. Walker passed away right here in the hotel, still working in his golden years. If you entertain ghost stories, plenty of folk say he's still here, doing his rounds. Must be a hell of a commitment." he smiled, his eyes distant.
Tap, tap, tap-
He looked up, hearing familiar footsteps nearing. Coming from towards the front desk was Honoria, dressed in her starchy housekeeping uniform consisting of a black dress with a white scalloped collar turned ivory from age. Her shoes, rather vintage looking pumps with a low heel, tapped along on the marble floor as she moved. She was slipping a small book, compact with a thoroughly worn out brown leather cover into the front pocket of her apron as she approached the two. Honoria always had the same expression on her face, her mouth a slightly down curved line and eyes softly squinted, stone-like and stoic with a touch of sorrow. "Pardon me, señor Bell." Her voice was as soft as cashmere, quiet and sincere. "The room, it is not ready." Honoria stated this flatly and then looked at Brent, staring directly into his eyes. "I am sorry." This was something that most would have thought to say to their superior, but Honoria seemed to be saying it to Brent instead at a volume that was nearly a whisper. She looked sad then, as if regarding a dear old friend that was departing after a reunion, an inevitable but painful thing. Walter however gawked at her and then looked down at his watch, obviously irritated.
"It's not ready? Mrs. Rosas, do you mean Mr. Hound's room? It's almost 8 o' clock- at night! That's unacceptable!" Walter's voice boomed and a flash of fear overtook Honoria's face, but she did not step back or make any movement.
"I'm sorry, señor Bell. Something unexpected happened, we are preparing it as quickly as we can. Just a few minutes more-"
"Well good! I should expect so! Mr. Hound has a specialty suite! Please, let me know immediately when it's ready! I am terribly, terribly sorry sir! Please, would you like to wait and rest in the bar? You can choose any seat you want, I'll have a word with the bartender and you can have whatever you like on the house!" Walter reassured, gesturing towards the interior of the dimly lit bar as a newcomer entered, a young looking man with a pair of sunglasses casually hanging from his collar.
When the kind woman produced her postcard, Akosua leaned in hungrily, taking in every last detail. There it was, Hosea 13:16. She listened attentively, following the woman's finger along the bottom corner of the card with her curious eyes. Matthew 13:50? It had been many years since she attended church with her family in Ghana, and even more had passed since her days learning gospels as a little girl and singing choir for a God she didn't quite believe in anymore. Time and circumstance had shown her both pleasures and horrors that had shaped her into a completely different person since those days of purity and innocence. This though, these verses, they sent a ripple of fear through her and she felt very uneasy. This was certainly not a holy place, but at the same time it did feel somewhat sacrilegious, that grand and beautiful hotel, a gorgeous dream of some unsuspecting fool reduced to a pit of poverty, crime and decay that was desperately clinging to life. Who had done this? What had done this? She began to have the eerie feeling that someone had collected both of them there, that none of this was happening by chance.
She listened as the woman explained her show, but had trouble focusing as her mind buzzed with endless questions. "Thank you so much for showing me your postcard. Beautiful Decay! What a perfect title! But my dear aren't you brave! How positively chilling, I will have to look into it! I have to imagine that it's a little dangerous, I hope you're being careful out there- but it must be very thrilling too!" she chimed, her smile widening. Akosua admired bravery, especially in women, but was genuinely concerned for her safety. Not just because of the structural safety of old buildings, but the horrific things that can be hidden inside. Too many times in her life had she been called out to grisly scenes in abandoned places, locations where people think they can hide their mistakes and sins thinking that nobody will ever find them. And, in some cases, they were right- some things were never seen again. Akosua slid her postcard back into the envelope and then pulled out a photo:
"You are very kind, dear. This is Violeta Garcia." Akosua did not have hope that the woman would recognize her, it was obviously a very old photo. "Her family hired me to come out here see what I can find, but I have to let you know, she went missing in 1953- if she's still alive, she would be 92 years old. She moved here from Mexico when she was 23 and worked in this hotel as a housekeeper, she went missing and all they could find was her uniform laid out in the basement. Police didn't pay her disappearance much mind, there isn't much to go on. I'm sure this family would be grateful for any kind of mention, but there is no obligation. " Akosua let out a sigh as she looked down at the photo sadly. The truth was, she would likely not able to find any answers for the family. The case was incredibly cold with little to no information from the LAPD, they seemed to treated her as another missing woman of color, some Mexican alien that wasn't where she belonged. Akosua had seen it many times before, the racist and sexist disregard of human life, just another number on some record somewhere. "My dear, how rude of me! I haven't even introduced myself! My name is Akosua Osei, private investigator- but please, it's a bit of a tricky name, call me Sia." just then, she heard the hotel manager shouting outside the bar and turned to look at the entrance, just in time to see another gentleman enter. She watched him as he sat down carefully, sizing up his overall baring. Men in general made her put up her guard, but something about his relaxed, undone demeanor put her on high alert. You never truly knew what type of folk were slinking around skid row, and he looked suspicious to the retired detective.
"If you entertain ghost stories, plenty of folk say he's still here, doing his rounds. Must be a hell of a commitment."
"Yes," Brent agreed, and would have gone on when he was ready, but the bust pulled him in too long, to those little pits below the deep, looming brows. The housekeeper approached with a hollow step, distant like in a dream. Brent finally pulled himself away.
"Pardon me, señor Bell. The room, it is not ready."
Her eyes met Brent's.
"I am sorry."
The eyes in this place... each seeing more than it should. The bronze man's, and the stone-like woman's; the dead, and the deathlike; and Mr. Bell, who seemed to see nothing at all, flitting from one place to the next, a veneer of liveliness -
"It's not ready?" The man exploded. "Mrs. Rosas, do you mean Mr. Hound's room? It's almost 8 o' clock - at night! That's unacceptable!"
Brent looked away, the exchange proceeding. He tried to focus on the doors, the reception desk - where was the bell? - he tried to find it but his eyes couldn't linger, brushed away by the dancing beams of light. He sought refuge in the dim bar, watched the people, the miserable people, huddling within; but he saw nothing there that he could bring himself to engage. All their little dramas slipped away, and he found himself staring back to the one thing where his eyes could find affixture. Old, dead, undying Mr. Walker withered under Brent's renewed gaze.
Did you hunger for your bread, Walker?
"I am terribly, terribly sorry sir! Please, would you like to wait and rest in the bar? You can choose any seat you want, I'll have a word with the bartender and you can have whatever you like on the house!"
It was a sign. All along, he had thought to sleep elsewhere. He had been convinced it was the right idea. But all along, he had conceded to some part of him that said to stay here. Don't miss it, something told him, something that was stirred up by restless nights and phrases read through drooping lids. Now the room was not ready. He would have to concede. To leave.
He looked into the bar. There was a single table, lit by one of the hanging wide-brimmed lights, whose surface was clean and untouched.
"Very well." He turned back to the manager. "Now, Mr. Bell, if I would like to reach you directly..."
"You are very kind, dear. This is Violeta Garcia."
Camila looked at the photograph politely. 1953 ... this was a COLD case. Still, she could nose it around the podcast networks. Who knows, maybe one of the True Crime podcasts would pick up on it. Everybody was always hunting for new material.
"I'll pass it along. We've got a few friends who do a 'Missing Persons' podcast - it's called Without a Trace. Maybe they'll have heard something."
"My name is Akosua Osei, private investigator- but please, it's a bit of a tricky name, call me Sia."
"Camila Torres-Serrano. Just another UCLA graduate trying to make something out of her architecture degree."
Her ear caught an eruption at the front desk. Something about a room not being ready. She glanced around, catching sight of a few more people trickling in. A man was ordering a stiff whiskey at the bar, although it looked like he needed a stiff nap and a shower instead.
"How does this place stay in business? It feels so empty here. The upkeep must be extraordinary. They'd need a lot of business, but I couldn't find any listings of the place on the usual hotel aggregate sites. Not even a Yelp review."
It wasn’t in her nature to wander. It wasn’t in her nature to listen to Them, either, but her mother was always an exception. Always - which was how she found herself outside of the Empress one fateful afternoon. She observed the building carefully; its faded brick and climbing ivy giving off an air of abandonment, and maybe it was - maybe she’d walk in and find nothing...she knew better, though. Everyone who had grown up in the area knew the rumors.
“This is the worst decision you’ve ever made; which is saying something considering-”
“You really shouldn’t do this, honey…”
“Mavis Clare, I can not follow you in there. I will not follow you in there-”
She entered the decrepit hotel and, for a split second, she was alone. The usual gang of spirits that followed her weren’t creating background noise or whispering in her ear. They must’ve really meant they couldn’t enter the building, which was...strange...to say the least.
Ever since Mavis could remember, she had been able to commune with the dearly departed; she inherited the ‘gift’ from her mother who had been quick to teach her how people like them kept their ‘talent’ under wraps. Mavis had grown into quite the quiet person as a result, preferring to explore her curiosity herself rather than with a group of friends, although it didn’t seem like that would possible considering the hotel had a few people milling around in a bar just off the lobby she was in.
And then They appeared. Apparently, the rumors were true: the Empress was, in fact, haunted.
But these spirits were the usual suspects that followed her around on the daily- no, these spirits looked tired. And they weren’t conversing with each other, either. Despite the fact that Mavis would get rid of her clairvoyant abilities in a heartbeat, she couldn’t deny that fact that they’re silence felt wrong. She almost pitied them. An overwhelming pressure befell her shoulders, then, and she suddenly felt the need to get out. Run. Run-
But her mom had summoned her here; she’d only gotten the letter in the mail a day ago, and it didn’t take long for her to decide to follow the instructions enclosed. Sure, it had crossed her mind for a second that a ghost sending a letter was odd, but Mavis’s life was riddled with strange occurrences. She had a tendency to brush them off as normal.
She entered the bar and took a seat at one of the empty booths, choosing to ignore the other few guests hanging around in the hope that no one would question her presence. She was just going to be there long enough to get answers- not nearly long enough to bother anyone. That was the plan, anyway...
A minor inconvenience, he thought. Honoria was testing Walter's patience by not having the room ready. It was customary to offer an appetizer before a meal, and she had broken the custom. It was not the first time, and without a doubt, he promised himself, he would have to ensure that she didn't do it again. There was a brazen, foolish bravery to the woman that both impressed and infuriated him. It was always like this, a dance, a little give, a little take. He would deal with her later.
"Mr. Hound, you can reach me directly at a moment's notice because I'll be in the bar too! For business of course, I have a meeting with a fetching young lady Sherlock!" As bright as the sun, he leaned over and waved at Akosua who was seated at the bar and had been side eyeing him ever since he rose his voice- an unattractive thing he wished he hadn't done so indiscreetly. Beside Akosua was of course, another invited guest, Camila, as well he remembered penning her postcard. It figured, he supposed, that Akosua would be socializing like an gossiping spinster on some sitcom, lord knew what manner of dark questions she was asking the vodcaster, what dirty laundry she was attempting to dredge up from the pits of the old hotel. Still though, he regarded her as if he had known her all his life, smiling brightly at her before giving another wave to Camila to let them both know he would be over soon.
"Please sir, have a seat and I will get the bartender right over to you." Walter then turned without giving Brent a moment to answer him. He smiled at Honoria and led her around the corner with a hand on her back, out of sight. She had been standing there looking at the bar patrons, Brent, the two ladies chatting together, the charismatic fellow all by himself. She frowned at him, just a boy in her eyes, but her displeasure not towards him. It was towards a cold black shadow beside him, a shadow that he wouldn't be able to see for himself, that clutched onto him with several reaching hands, long bony fingers curled around his arms and legs. And then, suddenly, a girl. Immediately, she felt a tug in her heart and a saw a darkness around her. What a pity, to have the sight in a place like this. Torn away around the corner, Honoria avoided Walter's gaze. He grabbed her forearm with a vice grip and she breathed in sharply as he brought his face closer to hers, his eyes wide and bulbous, the color seeming to fade from his skin. "You can leave now Mrs. Rosas, and pray with those stupid medallions that we aren't punished for your idiotic meddling! You keep teasing the dog, it'll bite." Walter's voice was a toxic, low and guttural hiss that made Honoria cringe. It did not sound like him.
He turned away and floated back into the bar, back to his sunshiny facade as he approached the counter. Walter frowned at the sight of the empty bar, and tapped his index finger on the shiny surface impatiently. Like clockwork, the bartender appeared, noticeably paler than before and covered in a cold sweat. Truth be told, he looked a little ill, but still smiled at Walter, a crooked and unsettling slanted grin that did not match his eyes. "Ah, Danny boy! Please, see to it that Mr. Hound has whatever he likes as he waits for his room! You know what, it's such a beautiful night, why not have a free round for everyone! Vieux Carre for me, just don't tell the manager!" He exaggerated the pronunciation and then laughed at his own cheesy joke before approaching Akosua and Camile. "Good evening ladies! Miss Osei, thank you so much for waiting. Now who is your lovely friend? Please, don't let me interrupt, this old dog can wait if you two are catching up!" Still as warm as the sun, his eyes flicked down to the black and white photo on the counter and a visible flash of displeasure rippled across his features.
Meanwhile, as Walter began his grandstanding, Honoria slipped back into the bar. His back was facing her and she flew under his radar perfectly, this was fairly common. Something about the old housekeeper made her both stand out but also fade away seamlessly, she was both incredibly unremarkable in her environment but also left just the faintest impression no matter where she went. She had a noiseless step and moved with quickness and grace despite her age. She first placed a hand on Brent's shoulder and then passed him, approaching the table he meant to sit at. Without a sound, oddly, the small compact book she had slid into her apron fell to the dark bar floor and laid there, cover facing the ancient ceiling. Embossed into the old brown leather read a title in Gothic script:
And whatever text underneath was long since faded. A small slip of paper stuck out slightly from inside, it was a blush pink color and didn't match the rest of the small book. On it she had written only a single sentence in her spidery cursive. "Enjoy your room. Remember it is the one on the RIGHT." She moved like a shadow to the left of the bar, her head turned to peek at Walter, who was still conversing happily. She was nearly out of the bar, but stopped just at the exit. She turned and looked at the young lady who had just entered, as if she was pulled back to see her. A look of terrible heavy sorrow pressed down on the housekeeper and as she looked pitifully at the girl, but she knew it wasn't yet time. Honoria could not offer her much, she didn't break eye contact with the girl but lifted her aged arm and pointed at the lone young man at the counter and his unknown shadow companion, a darkness that was growing. The very action seemed to drain her considerably and she trembled slightly, looking as if someone had aged her another five or six years. Then, again, as if by clockwork, the front desk receptionist strode gently towards her and laid a gentle hand on Honoria's shoulder before leading her away like a mother guiding her sleep walking child back to bed. Honoria was gone.
"Good evening ladies! Miss Osei, thank you so much for waiting. Now who is your lovely friend? Please, don't let me interrupt, this old dog can wait if you two are catching up!"
Camila had been watching the man's interaction with the housekeeper. The words had been too faint to make out, but the tense body language had been clear enough. The sudden switch from angry to charming - or some approximation of charming - was jarring. Camila let her eyes flick towards Akosua - towards Sia - and cocked an eyebrow. Just for a second, letting the woman know that something felt off here.
"Good evening, Mister ... Bell? I'm Camila Torres-Serrano, with the vodcast Beautiful Decay." Camila gestured with the postcard. "Thank you so much for your invitation! It's not often that owners reach out to us, and this place obviously has so many stories to tell our viewers."
The question was, would these be happy stories? Camila was increasingly getting the feeling that they wouldn't be. The story of Violeta Garcia was probably only one of the darker ones. Could she get a few of these stories, enough to satisfy her viewers and her editor, and then get out of here?
The bar was a dead place, through which the manager danced with all the liveliness of a toddler's marionette, tapping and humming, stirring up dust and vibrancy for just a moment, so it could settle down again in his wake. Brent felt himself drawn in within that flourish, blinded by it. He looked before him, and didn't see; he reached the table, felt a hand on his back, and barely turned before the old housekeeper passed him by.
Pardon, he wanted to whisper, but... no.
The woman passed.
Slowly, his eyes were drawn to the floor.
His heart skipped a beat.
But the book was a Bible, worn and well-loved, and Brent bent to pick it up. A pink slip of paper caught his eye. Enjoy your room. Remember it is the one on the RIGHT.
Somewhere in the vents of the Hotel hallways laid Rose, reading a book to herself sound out the words one by one. Her mother had her drop out of middle-school so larger words were more complicated for her, so Rose took her time during the day to read and learn. Rose had been reading the book Alice in Wonderland, her favorite, she smiled at the illustration the book had and let her fingers drift across the page in admiration. She had been lost in her activity before she heard a small cough from underneath her, it had been one of the other housekeeper girls. It was a cough of warning that there were guests and if she hadn’t been down to attend to them soon. Miss Honoria wouldn’t be happy with her, Rose quickly moved out of comfort and opened the vent before dropping out of it. Rose had worn no shoes or socks, which was something off the regular and tattered work clothes, wearing her attire this way comforted her,
Rose started to make small steps that lead toward the entrance of the hotel, she held her hands together and kept her gentle but muted appearance. As she came close to the entrance, she realized that it wasn’t her shift. It was just a sneaky way for her to get out of the vents to not scare the guests. She heard chatter over toward the bar area and made her way over, she looked at them curiously slowly approaching them. Before she headed up to the bar tender as her nerves shot with so many people around. But, thank god, Rose didn’t let her emotions show. She appeared as a silent lost child.
it’d rained briefly earlier, and even though hakuren loved storms, loved the sound of rain against windows, loved that distinct smell, walking in it? while it poured? was not fun. his socks had been damp for hours afterward and he’d been lucky enough to have an...acquaintance willing to let him take a quick stop at his shitty apartment to dry off and wash his clothes. he’d even gotten a shower that wasn't just rain water.
and if haku stole a nice shirt from the guy? well, consider it continued good hospitality. he’d taken another pair of socks too, but those would probably go unnoticed. who the hell kept track of their socks?
at least now that the rain had stopped and it was dark, hakuren could do what he’d originally sought out to do. he could feel the weight of the key in his pocket (which, according to the postcard, was to be brought to room 1304 -- that was like, two unlucky numbers in one, what the hell. not that hakuren was especially superstitious or anything but...still. and that word on the bottom, with the numbers after it. what was that?) as he stood in front of the hotel, and he held the postcard in his hands, fingers flicking the corner idly. the writing on it claimed they could get him a room for a couple nights, which: cool, free housing. except hakuren had no idea who this ‘andy’ was or why this shitty old hotel was suddenly getting a bunch of rich ass guests.
hakuren tilted his head back and planted his hands on his hips, his one working eye surveying the brick building before him. he’d snuck inside plenty of old buildings, abandoned or not, but something about this one felt...off.
he’d try his luck getting in from the front like any other guest; see if he could get some info on this andy guy. it’s not that he didn’t trust him (read: he didn’t), but the fact that he’d sought him out (through a postcard no less) and wanted to do biz with him was odd. hakuren usually worked solo.
saying he was disinterested would be a lie, though, and getting to know the other guests wouldn’t be too bad either. it was easy to steal from people when they thought you were friends. if all of that proved impossible, he’d climb through a window or something. he’d spotted a fire escape around back already, and those old sash windows would be a breeze to get into.
readjusting his bag over his shoulder and shoving his tinted sunglasses over onto his head, hakuren made his way inside and --
-- this place was a dump.
his hopes were low enough to begin with, but he was still disappointed when he was greeted with the interior of the hotel. it’s not like hakuren could talk, though: this was probably the nicest place he could hope to spend the next few days in. he took a glance around, hovering briefly over each person that was in sight before stopping at what looked like a bar in the back. at least the lighting in here was dim.
wrinkling his nose the slightest bit, he strode in, weaving silently around anyone else he came across (no ‘old mexican lady’ in sight. hakuren wondered briefly why he’d been told to avoid her. what harm could an old woman do?) and plopped himself inelegantly into the nearest stool. he dropped an elbow onto the counter and planted his chin on his palm, other hand tapping a finger against the bar top to get the bartender’s attention.
“you wouldn’t happen to know an andy who works here, would you?”
♕ Interaction: Open
♔ Mention: Just about everyone.
♘ Mood: Terrified and panicked, disoriented.
When Camila had finished speaking, the bartender slid Walter’s cocktail, the Vieux Carre down in front of him. However, instead of the warm coloured New Orleans treat, the glass had a rather thick looking black liquid inside, like muddied ink. Akosua had looked at the bartender with minor outrage that he had served Walter first when she felt like she had ordered another drink long ago, but was taken far aback by the strange elixir he had brought to his master. She wasn’t an expert, but that did not look like something meant to be ingested- at least not with pleasure. How strange, she thought, staring into the black liquid and seeing her warped reflection looking back at her. It was all strange. Walter had led in an elderly looking gentleman, who she deduced was the one lacking a room (he wasn’t missing anything) and after he had glided over to sweet talk her and Camila a housekeeper that looked about a hundred years old followed in after them.
She had wanted to watch further, but Walter blocked her view. The face he pulled at the sight of Violeta made her want to interrupt him immediately, but he persisted. “You are very welcome Miss! This old girl is happy for the exposure!” Walter chimed almostly cloyingly at Camila. Sighing, she slid her phone into the pocket of her blazer and readied herself for what she was sure would be a long session in tolerating an overabundance of charisma. Akosua noticed a young woman enter and take a booth by herself, and then another strange looking girl with no shoes, followed by an eccentric looking youngster with the type of fashion sense she disagreed with. Really, skunk hair? And buckets of piercings! However was he going to get a job with- what! Walter took the glass and drank the dark liquid, and she watched with wide eyes as it slid like a sludge into his mouth. “Honey, what in the name of Christ almighty is that?!” she spat, leaning backward in disgust. Walter put his glass down hard and smacked his lips, the sound made her cringe and wrinkle her nose. A smell wafted towards all three of them, the smell of ages old books and dust, earth and rust.
“Stories. She’s got lots of stories. I wonder what kind you’ll write here.” Walter said hoarsely, his voice thin and raspy. A violently cold chill gripped Akosua and she grabbed the counter, disoriented. She felt like she had just stepped off one of those spinning gravity rides at a fair, right into a pile of snow. The lights flickered then, it sounded like every bulb was full of little moths desperately flapping against the glass. What was happening? Was it an earthquake? She got out of her seat and stood shakily, clutching to the backrest of her chair, then a taste hit her. It was ink, ink flowing down her throat in toxic clumps. She began coughing, but nothing would come out. “I think it was the name that got me, ‘Beautiful Decay’. But there isn’t really anything decaying- she’s still thriving.” at that, a loud rumble rippled across the floor and she could feel Walter pull her up as the lights continued flickering. She couldn’t quite tell what was happening between her coughing and dizziness, but she could hear glasses and bottles shaking about on counters before they fell to the floor and shattered. The lights went out completely then, and the splintering of wood erupted all around them. Panic hit her like a load of bricks and she wrestled away from Walter towards the entrance, stumbling about in her heels.
“I-I can’t be in here, it must be an earthquake!” She cried, lumbering forward- but her groping hands met a wall. It couldn’t be, the double doors were there, wide open just a moment ago. Still disoriented she felt along the wall, listened for the sound of the lobby, but there was nothing. “Where’s the way out?! Walter where is the exit!” She barked, shoving her hand into her pocket to retrieve her phone. Tapping furiously, she realized that it was completely dead- cold in her hands as if it had been in a freezer for an hour or two. It was absurd, she had checked the time just a few minutes ago but a terrifying feeling was beginning to consume her, it had been growing all evening and was even worse than her fear of the dark. Strange events, strange coincidences, strange people all gathering in a strange place at the same time. This was all on purpose.
In the middle of the bar, the outline of a door began to shine forth brightly. Then, the door opened with a loud creak and revealed a well lit hallway of the hotel, but older, retro in her opinion as her vision cleared. Was that a man on the other side? She didn't care, she stumbled forward an into the hallway grateful for the light, her breath heaving as she barreled forward.
♖ OOC: I have one more NPC post coming up after this one.