sacred geometry, part 2: golden spiral

"The one thing that I never thought I'd find in church…" Scarlett paused, frowned, and deleted the text. She'd been trying to figure out how to start the newest post for her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, for the better part of an hour. Each time she thought she had the first sentence, she ended up deleting it.

"So sleepy," her brain muttered to her. "Let's go to bed."

"No, I need to get this out of my head," she argued with herself.

"There's plenty of time for that later. I'm no good to you now, anyway."

"I really want to write this now, while the experience is still fresh," she thought as she sat back in her chair, took a sip of green tea, and sighed.

"Well, good luck with that," her brain said in a huff, "I'm out of here."

"Fine, I'll do this without your help," she declared to her now absent mind.

#

Earlier that day, her best friend, Jeff, had picked her up so that the two of them could go investigate the Church in the Woods, just south of Cleveland. Scarlett had gotten wind of the possible existence of a holy relic less than fifteen minutes from downtown, and she instantly knew it would make a great story for her blog. After the trouble she'd ran into on her last investigation, she appreciated the company.

"I thought you hated churches," said Jeff as they turned off I-480 and sat on the exit ramp, waiting for the light.

"I don't hate churches. I've been in plenty of them."

"Really?"

"Well, it's not like I burst into flames when I step inside one," she said as she reached down to change the radio station, "I mean – I've been to weddings and stuff. I just don't…" She stopped, and looked out the window of the car. "I can't…believe…in church," she sighed, "Not since Sam disappeared."

Scarlett's younger sister, Samantha, had disappeared while walking home during her freshman year of high school. No trace of her had ever been found – her missing person case had never officially been closed. Trying to find her, and then later, when her family had finally given up hope, trying to find out what had happened to her, was one of the reasons that Scarlett had been drawn to the paranormal in the first place. She'd visited quite a few psychics and mediums over the past twelve years.

"Oh, ok," Jeff was quiet for a moment. "I understand."

"Yeah?"

"Sure. Sometimes things like that make you stop believing. Sometimes they make you start."

"I guess."

"Well, when Maggie was stillborn, I didn't go to church for a whole year."

"I didn't know that." Scarlett turned to look at her best friend. "Why didn't I know that?"

"I didn't really make a big deal about it. I just didn't go."

"Huh."

"Mary was the opposite. She couldn't wait to go."

"I remember she was always talking about how she couldn't wait to get to church on Sunday – that's why I thought you went, too."

"Nah. I stayed home and played video games."

Scarlett squinted at him. "Oh, so that's how you got so good at Halo. No wonder you keep kicking my ass now."

"I could kick your ass before then, too," he said with a smile. "Anyway, if you ever do decide to start believing again, and I'm not saying you should, of course. But if you did, you're always welcome to come with Mary and me and the kids."

Scarlett smiled in return, "Thanks man, but even if I did go back to church, I'm not Catholic."

"Oh, I know. It's just an open offer, that's all."

#

The Woods Church was nestled in a deep wooded lot in the middle of a sea of tidy, post-war, baby-boomer, planned-community houses. Constructed as a large A-frame building, the roof touched the ground on both sides. It was a striking building, and with snow covering the lot, the whole scene had an mystical air. Scarlett briefly contemplated taking time to sketch it, but decided not to keep Jeff waiting around in the cold winter air.

Scarlett knocked on the front doors and, after a moment, a man in his fifties poked his head out. "You must be Scarlett, I presume?"

"Hi, Pastor Tim? Thanks for agreeing to meet us," she said as she extended her hand.

"Oh, it's no trouble. I'm a big fan of your blog," he said excitedly as he shook her hand. "Please, come in," he continued as he ushered them into the vestibule.

"Wait, really?" asked Jeff.

"Hey," Scarlett pouted. "People read my blog."

"Yes, really," the pastor chuckled, "I'm kind of a paranormal buff, myself."

"Cool. Well," Scarlett closed the door behind them and then pulled a sketchbook and pen out of her bag, "I've got a few questions to start with."

"Sure! Go right ahead."

"Well, I read that the church was built in the early sixties."

"That's right. Nineteen sixty one. She just turned fifty this year." He sighed, "It's a crying shame."

"A shame?" asked Scarlett.

"They're closing her down. We're holding our last service at the end of March."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Jeff, "A lot of the Catholic churches are closing too. Mine was shut down last year."

"Yes, there's quite a lot of that going around right now." Tim nodded. "There aren't as many church-goers in Cleveland these days."

"Do you think they're losing their faith?" Jeff asked. Scarlett squinted at him.

"Faith? Maybe," he paused to think, "More likely that the same thing's happening to us that's happening to all of Cleveland. The economy stinks, and everyone young is moving away. So, our congregations are growing older and shrinking."

Jeff nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense."

"I'm sorry to hear that, too," said Scarlett as she made note of the conversation, "I'm glad I was able to get in and see you before it closed."

"Well, you're giving it a new life, in perhaps a different form, by writing about it. So, what's next?"

"So, I also read that it was built by the owner of a lumber yard who had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land."

"That's also true," he smiled, "Pete Wysocki was inspired by his trip to finance the construction. He did the design himself, too – he was an amateur architect of sorts. He passed away a few years after it was built." He stopped to allow Scarlett to write notes, "Well, keep going, though I'm pretty I know what you're going to ask next."

Scarlett took a deep breath, "I read that he built the church to house a holy relic that he brought back from the Holy Land."

Pastor Tim chuckled again, "Well, that's the story as I understand it. From what I've learned talking to the previous pastor, and from some of the folks who knew him, he did claim to have brought 'something important' back with him that he hid here. The trouble is he never told anyone what it was."

"Nobody?"

"Nope. He kept mentioning it in his journal, which I've got in my office, if you want to take a look at it, but he never really described it and he never recorded where he put it. That's assuming he actually put anything anywhere at all, of course, and he wasn't just pulling everyone's leg."

Scarlett frowned. "I imagine that people have looked for it?"

"Oh, absolutely! Heck, I spent the better part of my first year here turning over every pew to see if I could find something. Other than dust bunnies and about five bucks in loose change, I didn't find a thing."

"Hmm. Ok," she jotted in her notebook, and then continued, "Well, the other thing I heard was that the church was built according to the golden ratio?"

"Ah, now that is definitely true, yes – it's an unconventional design for a church to begin with, what with the A-frame construction, but the interior is especially different. Wysocki wasn't a typical architect, so he didn't feel compelled to design it like a typical church. You'll see once you look inside."

A phone chirped, and Scarlett went to pull hers out of her bag. Tim, however, pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, frowned, and then said, "Sorry, I've got to take this, so feel free to look around. Just don't put holes in anything without asking first, ok?"

"Sure thing," Scarlett agreed.

After Tim wandered off, Jeff turned to Scarlett. "Golden ratio? What's with you and all the weird math, lately?"

Scarlett shrugged, "Dunno. It does feel like there's some overarching theme, though, doesn't there?" She poked her head into the nave, "Oh, weird – come look at this."

Jeff walked in beside her, "Huh. That is weird. Everything's off center."

Instead of the traditional layout of a center aisle running the length of the nave, the pews were configured in a semi-circular arrangement that faced the back, right hand corner. "It looks more like a theater than a church," said Scarlett.

The raised chancel had a set of stairs on the far left. At the far end of the building, a sanctuary framed by a set of soaring picture windows housed a large wooden cross, which was suspended from the ceiling. Midway between the sanctuary and the front of the chancel stood a wooden altar, and in front of that, at the very front of the chancel, the pulpit.

"Why did they put the sanctuary two-thirds of the way to the right, though?" asked Jeff

"It's not quite two thirds," Scarlett said as she began to sketch the layout of the interior. The vestibule and nave formed a perfect square, she realized, and the chancel and sanctuary together made a rectangle just deep enough to form the golden ratio.

"Look," she pointed to her sketchbook, "The ratio of the length of the whole church to the length of the front part is the same as the ratio of the length of the front part to the length of the back part. The whole thing forms a golden rectangle."

"You can do this all in your head?" Jeff asked.

"Well, and on paper."

"Still."

"I'm an artist, it's what I do." Scarlett shrugged, then marked down the position of the cross, altar, and pulpit. "Hmmm."

"What's that?"

"I think the reason that everything's off center is that it's all on the border of smaller golden rectangles. See, if I split this back rectangle into the correct parts, then the cross is right at that border of the two smaller pieces."

Jeff nodded, "Looks right."

"And if we continue to subdivide," she said as she scribbled furiously. "And then we draw a spiral that connects the corners of each square, then the spiral reaches its limit," Scarlett looked up and pointed to the altar, "right there."

"No kidding."

"No kidding," Scarlett smiled.

"It's like he designed a path that leads straight toward it."

#

Scarlett and Jeff spent the better part of an hour looking at the altar, around the altar, under the altar, and on top of the altar. Pastor Tim rejoined them, listened patiently to Scarlett's explanation of the golden spiral, helped them move the altar, helped them move it back, and then left to take another phone call.

Scarlett was getting frustrated. "Well, this sucks. I was really hoping we were on to something."

"Maybe it isn't where the spiral terminates," said Jeff, "Maybe…"

"Maybe?"

"You're familiar with labyrinths, right?"

"The minotaur kind or the cathedral kind?"

"The cathedral kind."

"Yeah, I've read about them."

"Well, Mary walks with one of her friends at Trinity Cathedral, downtown, every other Tuesday night after work. She says it's meditative and reflective."

"So?"

"So, what if that's what's going on here? What if the process of getting to the center of the spiral is the important part?"

"You mean walking the spiral like walking a labyrinth?"

"Right."

Scarlett looked at her sketchbook. "Well, that means that you'd have to start," she turned around and walked back into the vestibule, to the front-right corner of the building, "here." She looked down. At her feet was a small golden cross inlaid into the tiled floor.

She envisioned the spiral in her mind – a glowing twisting line that wound from the corner of the church through the doors and into the nave. "That's pretty convenient," she thought as she began to follow the path.

The spiral followed the curve of the rear pew, and she walked its length slowly. As she exited the pew, she saw another golden cross inlaid into the first step leading up to the chancel and sanctuary. "No shit." She couldn't help but smile to herself. As she walked slowly across the hardwood floor of the chancel, she kept the golden filament in her mind, feeling a little like Theseus, following his ball of twine.

The large, wooden cross loomed above her, and she saw another small, golden cross set into the floor directly below it. As she took her next step, she heard the echo of another set of feet behind her. She looked around, but saw that Jeff was still standing in the entrance to the nave, watching her. Tim, the pastor, had joined him.

She took another step, and clearly heard the sound of two feet echoing. With each step along the spiral, her sense that a presence was behind her increased. Out of nowhere, she caught the scent of honeysuckle floating through the air, and she breathed deeply.

"That's weird," she thought. From her past experiences, she knew that out-of-place odors often accompanied spectral activity.

The next golden cross was exactly where she expected it to be, below a stained glass skylight where the spiral touched the right wall of the church. Suddenly, she felt a hand grasp hers. It was a feminine hand, soft, with manicured nails. It was a touch she recognized.

Her eyes began to water, though she kept the golden spiral in her mind. At the front of the chancel was the pulpit, and at its base was another golden cross. She forced herself to keep walking toward it, though it was only a few paces away.

The hand squeezed hers tightly, and she realized that it was her sister that was walking next to her. Her sister who had disappeared a dozen years ago on her way home from school, who had never had the opportunity to graduate, who had never learned how to drive, who had never held a job. Her sister who used honeysuckle-scented shampoo. "Sam," she gasped.

Scarlett made another turn on the spiral, and then saw the altar, with a golden, glowing cross sitting atop it. She felt the hand tug on hers, urging her to kneel before it, like they had done together growing up, together every day, together every Sunday.

She fought the urge to cry, fought the urge to give in to the years of grief, the years of frustration, the years of wondering if her sister would ever be found. She squeezed the hand in hers as tightly as she could, and then heard a whisper in her ear. She listened, smiled, and nodded.

#

"Scarlett?" asked Jeff.

"Huh?" she shook her head as her vision cleared.

"Are you ok?"

"Yeah," she said quietly as she stood up. She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve. "I'm ok. I think I'm ready to go."

"Ok."

"Did you find anything?" asked Tim, who had walked up behind Jeff.

Scarlett smiled. "I guess you'll just have to read the blog to find out."

"Hey, now. Shouldn't I get an advanced peek, at least?"

"I'll email you the article before it gets posted."

"Ok, then. Well, I don't want to rush you out, but I do have to close up for the time being. I've got to go visit one of my congregants in the hospital."

Scarlett nodded and walked with Jeff to the car.

"Are you sure you're ok?" he asked, once they were buckled in.

"I saw Sam," she whispered, "she was there."

"Wait, your sister?"

"Yeah. She was walking along behind me."

"Holy crap."

Scarlett stared out the window of the car as they pulled out of the lot. "I'm not exactly sure what to think about it yet."

"Did she say anything?"

She nodded, "Yes." Scarlett was quiet for a long moment, and then she sighed. "She said, 'I'm at peace.'"

Jeff reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Is there anything I can do?"

Scarlett sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Yeah, what time do you guys leave for church in the morning?"

#

Scarlett set down her tea, put her hands on the keyboard, and started to write again. "I went to the Woods Church to look for a holy relic," she typed, "but what I found was arguably more important. It was, in fact, the last thing I expected to find – my faith."

###

Part 1 | Next Part

sacred geometry, part 1: tesseract

"For a building built by an eccentric architect who supposedly belonged to a modern Pythagorean mystery cult, this hotel looks disappointingly normal," thought Scarlett. She yawned, set down her bag, and pressed the elevator button.

The drive down from Cleveland had taken three hours, thanks to a wreck on the highway, and she was already tired from staying up the night before doing research. She'd heard about Hotel Tetra from one of the readers of her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night. The reader claimed that the architect of the hotel, Paul van Eck, was a mystic who'd gone crazy shortly after construction was completed in the late twenties, and taken his life inside one of the rooms.

After a lengthy Google search, she'd found out that, over the last eighty years, the hotel had seen an unnaturally high number of suicides, several unexplained disappearances, and continuous reports of ghostly phenomena. It was the perfect subject for her next feature article.

Having been built in the twenties, Scarlett had expected a hotel with gravitas; art deco and period decor. Instead, she found a hotel whose character had been stripped away by a series of recent renovations. There were small reminders of the hotel's history here and there, like the inscription on the stone façade over the front doors, "But take courage; the race of man is divine," but it was otherwise new, and modern, and sterile. "Might as well be a Holiday Inn," she thought.

"Was I supposed to go right or straight?" she thought as she stepped off the elevator. The building was a basic rectangle, which she also found disappointing, as she would be able to describe it as neither sprawling nor labyrinthine. "Maybe I'll have to break out 'parallelogram,'" she thought. Hallways stretched out straight in front of her and directly to her right.

She looked for a sign to indicate which way was which, but couldn't find one, so she shook her head and headed down the hall in front of her. Her suitcase was old, and the wheels wobbled, so it made a thunk, thunk, thunk sound as she pulled it behind her.

On the door of each of the rooms was a number superimposed over the hotel's logo – a motif of a triangle which was composed of ten dots arranged in rows of one, two, three, and four. She frowned and, through a mind clouded by fatigue, tried to recall where she'd seen it before.

Thunk, thunk, thunk. As she plodded down the hall, she remembered seeing the symbol in a Wikipedia article. It was a tetractys – a mystical symbol important to the Pythagoreans.

"Oh, no kidding," she thought to herself. "Maybe this isn't going to be a wild goose chase."

At the end of the hall, she turned right, walked down another hall, and turned right again. Thunk, thunk, thunk. On the wall to her left was one of the infrequent reminders of the hotel's history: an oil painting of a hunting dog, bordered by a thick, gilded, art-deco frame. "See, that's more like it," she thought, and made a mental note to come back and take a picture of it later.

Scarlett stopped for a moment and looked at the room numbers – they were counting down instead of up, in contrast to the two hallways she'd just walked down. "Crap," she thought, "where the hell is my room?" She kept walking, turned another corner, and looked at the numbers again – now they were counting up. "Weird."

She turned right again, saw the elevator doors at the end of the hall, and then spotted her room two doors from the elevator – 171. "Figures – I should have gone the other way. Oh well."

She slipped her keycard in the lock, the light turned green, and she wheeled her bag into the room. Then she yawned again, rubbed her eyes, and headed straight for the bed.

She had just pulled the covers over her head, when her brain finally caught up. "Wait. How many times did you turn the corner?" it asked her.

She sat up and thought through the hallways in her mind, retracing her steps. "Four. I turned four times before I saw the corner where I started. That means that there are five corners total – five right angles. In a rectangle."

She rubbed her eyes and yawned. "That can't be right."

"It's totally right. You turned the corner four times," replied her brain.

"No. That's not possible. I'm just tired. I must have imagined it."

"You didn't imagine it. I'm telling you – it was four times."

"There's no way. I was up late last night, and it's late now. I just need to sleep." She lay back down, closed her eyes, and immediately drifted off.

She was asleep for ten minutes when her brain woke her back up again. "It was four."

"It can't be four, brain. Go back to sleep."

"Fuck you, that's some weird-ass shit right there. You need to go check it out."

"But…"

"I'm not going to let you sleep until you check."

"Are you serious?"

"Well, I can't sleep until you look, and if I can't sleep then you can't sleep."

"God damn it." She sat up, threw off the covers, and shuffled to the door. She stopped and looked at the latch. "Crap," she thought, "I forgot to lock the door, too."

"See, aren't you glad I got you up?"

"Go to hell," she told her brain as she opened the door.

"You forgot your keycard."

She turned around and grabbed the card off the nightstand. "Fine. I'm sorry I told you to go to hell."

"Whatever, don't get distracted."

Scarlett looked to her right, down the hall, then to her left, toward the elevators. She decided to start where she'd begun, so she shuffled to the elevators, and then walked down the hall, counting the number of turns she took.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. She noticed that the carpet was woven with a pattern of the triangular logo repeated over and over. In her groggy state, she found staring at it a bit hypnotic. "One," she said to herself, as she turned the first corner.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. "Two." She saw the picture of the dog again.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. "Three." Scarlett expected to see the elevator at the end of the hall when she turned the corner, but instead saw another hall exactly like the one she had just walked down.

"I TOLD YOU!" said her brain.

"What the…" Scarlett thought as she quickly walked to the next corner. She peeked around, and sure enough – there was the elevator at the end of the hall and her room on the left.

She looked back down the hall she'd just come from, then looked back again. "No way."

"Way."

"Ok, let's try this again." She walked quickly this time: one corner, two corners, dog painting. Three corners, four corners, and then back to the elevator at corner number five.

She ran through the halls. One, two, dog, three, four, elevator, five. "What…the…fuck."

"I'm just going to shut up now," her brain said quietly.

#

Scarlett had been blogging about the paranormal since the heyday of AOL, and she'd seen things that had both scared and scarred her, but she'd rarely felt as discomfited as she did at that moment; goose-bumps ran down her arms and up the back of her neck.

After closing and locking the door to her room, she pulled out her iPhone and called her best friend, a college classmate who had stuck around longer than anyone else in her life.

"Hello?" came the groggy answer.

"Jeff? It's me, Scarlett."

"I know. You're in my phone. That's why I answered." He yawned loudly. "What's wrong?"

"I think I'm in a hypercube."

"Sorry?"

"I said I think I'm in a hypercube."

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone before he replied, "Wasn't that the name of that horrible sci-fi movie where everyone is trapped in a mysterious prison that keeps changing?"

"Er, yeah, I think so."

"And they all die in some weird, gruesome way, and in the end it has something to do with time?"

"Well, yeah, although there's less gruesome dying involved here." She shivered, involuntarily. "I hope."

"Why did we watch that again?"

"Well, it was a sequel, and the first one was good, and it was the next thing in my Netflix queue, and never mind that. For real – I think I'm in a hypercube."

"Are you high right now? Because you sound like you're high, and it’s twelve-thirty at night, and I have to work in the morning."

"I'm not high."

"Are you tripping?"

"No, jerk, I am not tripping."

"Drunk?"

"Fuck you, Jeff. I am stone-cold sober. I'm just tired. Or I was until I figured out that the geometry of this building is all screwed up." She yawned and rubbed her eyes.

"Ok, fine. Then, seriously, what the hell are you talking about?"

She explained the layout of the hotel – the rectangular floor with five right angles, the impossibility of the geometry.

"Huh," he said after he'd had a moment to think her analysis through.

"Exactly."

"Are you sure you're not on the surface of a sphere?"

"Sorry?"

"I paid attention in math class, too, you know. Can't you have a triangle with three right angles on the surface of a sphere?"

"But it's not a triangle. It's a rectangle with five sides."

"Oh, right." He paused for a few moments, then sighed. "Well, you can't be the first person to notice it. Did you call the front desk?"

Scarlett was caught off guard by the practicality of the suggestion. "No, of course not," she sighed to herself, "This is why I call you, you know."

"Yeah, I know," he yawned. "Need anything else?"

"No. Thanks, Jeff. I'm going to go see the desk clerk and ask what the holy hell is going on."

"Let me know how it goes. Oh, also, remember to throw your shoe into any of the rooms first to see if they're going to kill you. They did that in the movie."

"I'll keep that in mind."

#

The desk clerk was blond, pretty, and in her mid-thirties. She had her hair pulled up in a bun and wore a crisply pressed suit with a tiny, engraved name tag that read, "Diana." Like almost everything else in the hotel, Scarlett had thought when she'd checked in earlier, the woman was perfectly modern and somewhat boring.

Now, though, the clerk looked uncomfortable; she smiled with every part of her face but her eyes. "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"The first floor. There are five right angles…five corners at right angles…they make a rectangle, but that's impossible."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't understand." She glanced nervously at her wristwatch.

"Ok," Scarlett sighed. "Look, the building is a rectangle, right?"

"Yes."

"Rectangles have four corners and four sides, but there's a fifth one."

Diana pursed her lips and sighed, "Well, that clearly can't be. The building is, as you say, a rectangle."

"But I know what I saw. I was just up there. Look, I'm a paranormal blogger, and I came to write a story about the guy who designed this place and about the ghost sightings over the years – but this is way bigger. Can I talk to your manager? I've got to know what's going on here."

"Well, if you check back in the morning," she glanced at her watch again, "I'm sure my manager would be happy to talk with you."

"Fine," Scarlett's feelings of unease had transformed into excitement at the prospect of landing a major story that had never been covered in the paranormal press, "But I'm going to go take some pictures now and write up a post. You have wi-fi, right? This is going to be huge."

Diana stiffened. "Wait."

"Sorry?"

Diana's smile faded. "You're right, of course," she said as she stepped out from behind the counter. "There is something special about this hotel." She checked her watch again, "Why don't you let me show you what you really want to see?"

Scarlett raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

"Room 153 – where Paul van Eck killed himself."

"What does that have to do with the fucked up extra hallway?"

"I'll explain on the way."

Scarlett shrugged and motioned to the elevator. "I'm all ears."

"So how familiar are you with n-dimensional geometry?" asked Diana as she led Scarlett down the hallway.

"I was a math minor in college. Oh my god, is this actually a hypercube?"

"We prefer the term tesseract," she said curtly as she pressed the button to call the elevator.

"For real?"

"Yes, the building was built in four dimensions. The trouble, of course, is that a four dimensional object is inherently unstable in three dimensions. As it rotates, parts of it project into and out of our world."

Scarlett's head swam. She couldn't grasp how a physically-impossible hotel could have been built nearly eighty years ago and no one had ever found out. She followed Diana into the elevator, and shook her head in disbelief. After a moment, she said, "I can't have been the first person to figure this out."

Diana shrugged and gave a half-smile, "Oh, you're not. It doesn't happen all that often, though."

"Why is that?"

"The tesseract was built to rotate in the middle of the night, specifically so that most people would never notice."

"What about the people staying in those rooms? What happens to them?"

"Well," she grimaced, "Only one person has ever stayed overnight in a room that rotated…away."

"And?"

"It was van Eck. When his room finally rotated back, they found him dead. He'd hung himself from the ceiling fan."

Scarlett frowned. Something didn't add up; the hotel had a grisly history – suicides, drug overdoses, and unexplained disappearances. She noticed that Diana kept checking her watch. A chill ran up and down her spine.

"When did you say the hotel rotates, again?"

"Sorry?" The doors opened and Diana stepped out of the elevator. As she did so, Scarlett caught sight of a tattoo on the back of her neck, peeking out from under her collar. It was the triangle logo – the tetractys. "Oh shit," she thought.

"What happens to the people who are just walking down the hall when it rotates away?"

"Sorry? The room's just a little farther, now," Diana said as she walked briskly down the first hall.

Scarlett felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "Diana?"

"Quickly, now." They turned the first corner.

"You said that only one person stayed overnight, but what happens to people who are just walking down the hall?"

"Almost there." They turned the second corner and entered the hallway with the picture of the dog. Scarlett noticed, for the first time, that doors didn't have modern electronic locks – they had tarnished brass locks and handles instead.

Diana pulled out a key ring and stopped in front of the door to Room 153. "Here we are."

"What happens to the people who are walking by? What happens to the people who figure it out?"

Diana opened the door and motioned to Scarlett to enter. "Just go right in and I'll answer all of your questions."

Scarlett froze. Her blood ran cold and every part of her being screamed out at her not to step foot in that room. She knew, though she didn't understand how, that if she went into that room, she would never be seen again.

"After you," Diana said again.

Scarlett stepped forward, and then, when she was a foot from the door, reached out and pushed Diana in, instead. The clerk tumbled over her own feet and went sprawling on the old, dusty carpet. Scarlett grabbed the handle, and shut the door. She heard the lock click into place.

"No!" Diana yelled. "You stupid bitch! Let me out!"

Scarlett looked down. The key ring was lying on the floor. The handle started to rattle, but Scarlett held it tight.

"Let me out! You have to let me out!" the clerk screamed. She started pounding on the door. "Oh my god, you have to let me out!"

In the distance, Scarlett could hear a clock chime softly, the sound drifting gently through the air above the shouting and pounding and rattling.

"Oh god, No!" Diana yelled again, and the rattling and pounding grew louder. Suddenly, a shrill scream pierced the air, and the noises stopped. Then, the door in front of her started to distort inward, the handle pulling away from her hand.

Scarlett let go and jumped back. She looked to the right and could see the hallway itself stretching and twisting. "Oh, shit!"

She ran, and could feel her body twisting along with the hallway. She had to concentrate to put one foot in front of the next – the stretching threatened to tie her legs into knots. "Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" she screamed as she reached the corner.

With a grunt, she jumped, twisting herself around the corner and landing safely on the carpet of the next hallway. She lay still for a moment, waiting to see if her body was going to twist itself into a pretzel. When that didn't happen, she pushed herself up, and cautiously approached the corner. She peeked around and saw a perfectly normal hallway – no brass handles, no dog painting.

"Ok," said her brain, "Time to go."

"Yep," she thought. For once, she was in no mood to argue with herself.

#

"So are you going to write an article about it?" asked Jeff, as they sat at his kitchen table the following afternoon.

After her narrow escape, Scarlett had driven straight home and locked herself in her house, whereupon a healthy dose of bourbon helped put her to sleep.

"Based upon the fact that the creepy Pythagorean cult member tried to get the hotel to eat me when I told her I knew what was going on, I'm thinking no." She shivered. "I've seen some weird shit, man, but I have never had a building try to suck me into another dimension. This is a first."

"Seems like too good a story to waste, though."

"I'll break it out at dinner parties. It'll be a riot."

"Well, people already think you're crazy," Jeff snorted. "So I don't think it's too much of a stretch."

"Yeah, yeah," she waved dismissively at him.

"Ok, Scarlett, I've got to get ready to go on shift."

"Oh hey – what are you doing next Saturday?"

"I'll have to check with Mary, but I don't think anything. Why?"

"I've got a lead on a church in the area that's supposed to secretly house a holy relic. Want to come with?"

"We have holy relics in Cleveland?"

"Why not? We're just as religious as anywhere else."

"This church isn't going to try to eat me is it?"

"Nah."

He shrugged. "Sure. Sounds like fun."

###

Next Part

the girl with the ebony eyes

Jim stomped on the brakes, but the car kept moving. He jerked the wheel to the right, just as Cheryl screamed, and the car flew off the side of the rain-slicked road, crashing through the guard rail with a deafening screech of metal on metal before careening down the embankment.

The descent simultaneously took forever and an instant. They crashed through brush, bushes, branches; over rocks and dirt and gravel before slamming into the bottom of the ravine. Both of the air bags exploded as the car hit bottom, cushioning them as the momentum of the fall propelled them forward into the steering wheel and dashboard.  Jim heard the crash of bursting glass and the crack of exploding plastic.

He was stunned and disoriented, so he sat back in his seat and breathed for a moment. Then he shook his head to clear the confusion and asked, “Are you ok?”

Cheryl nodded as she, too, fought off disorientation. “I think so.” She pushed the deflated airbag away from her, then winced and grasped her side. “Ow. I think I broke a rib.”

Jim sat quietly for another moment, and then asked, “Did you see that?”

Cheryl turned to him and nodded slowly, “The girl?”

The girl was no more than twelve, dressed in a white cotton nightshirt, with skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. Filling her eye sockets was a black, empty space, that, in contrast to her skin, seemed to suck the light right out of the air. She was standing, unmoving, in the middle of the road, right at the spot in the bend where a car’s headlights reach only at the last second.

#

Jim had seen the girl three times before. The second time he saw her, she appeared in the doorway of his mother’s kitchen as he was standing in the dining room, setting the table for dinner. He looked away, startled, and then looked back. She could have been one of the neighborhood children that his mother baked cookies for if it hadn’t been for the empty space where her eyes should have been.

He blinked and she disappeared. A moment later, he heard a thud from the kitchen, where his mother lay dead from a massive heart attack.

The third time he saw her, he was helping his brother stock his liquor store. Jim was in the back of the store, moving cases of rum, when he saw the girl standing at the end of an aisle. He looked away, and a second later heard the jingle of the front door, then a demand for money, and then the sound of a gunshot.

He raced to the front, but the robber was gone and his brother was dead.

#

“We have to get out of here,” Jim said quietly. Now that he was no longer in shock, he was terrified, but he didn’t want to alarm his wife. She didn’t know that he’d seen the girl before.

“Can you open your door?” Cheryl asked. She looked out her window – her door was pinned against a tree.

Jim pulled the handle and threw his weight against his door. It creaked open and he squeezed out, then reached in and helped his wife climb out.

“What the hell, Jim?” she gasped.

“I…I…I don’t know.” He looked around frantically. He didn’t see the girl anywhere, and he felt a moment of hope. Maybe she failed this time. Maybe this time no one would die.

“What the hell?” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “What was that?” She stared at the screen and then started to wave it around.

“I’m not sure,” he said as he stepped back to survey the damage. “Baby, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get a signal. Shit – what the hell?” She waved the phone for another minute, then, “We need to get back up to the road.”

“What?” He watched as she took off up the hill. He turned to walk after her but snagged his jacket on a tree branch. As he looked back, he saw the girl again – standing in the darkness, watching them. In the distance, he could hear the rumble of a semi.

“Oh no,” he thought as his heart sank. “No, not Cheryl!” he struggled to free himself – to go after his wife – but the tree gripped his jacket tightly.

“Baby, stop!” he yelled, “Stop!”

“I’m almost there!” she yelled back, and kept climbing.

He could hear the rumble of the semi, could see the headlights approaching, and he prayed that she would stop when she got to the top of the hill. He prayed that she would stop and stand next to the guard rail to flag the truck down.

She reached the berm just as the headlights of the truck cleared the corner. Jim held his breath and felt his stomach lurch as he saw her stumble and fall right into the middle of the road. “No!” he screamed.

His scream was drowned out by the squeal of tires as the truck swerved to the right, following the same path that his own car had taken moments earlier – through the hole in the guardrail, off the side of the embankment.

In that moment, he remembered the first time he’d seen the girl, when he was twenty-three. It was on the same stretch of road, at the same time of night, and she was wearing the same white cotton nightshirt, with the same skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. That time, though, she didn’t have coal-black eyes. That time, he didn’t have anyone else in the car. That time, he didn’t swerve. No – the first time he saw the girl, her body, not his car, went flying down the embankment. The first time he saw her, he kept driving.

Now, as he watched the truck barrel down the hill toward him – toward where he remained immobilized – he realized that could see through the front windshield, where the girl with the ebony eyes was sitting calmly in the passenger seat – smiling.

wasps

“Oh, no,” Maggie thought as she watched the wasp crawl out of her ear, “Not again.” She’d been in the middle of brushing her teeth when she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye, and she stopped and stared at her reflection in the mirror as the creature emerged.

“No, no, no,” she thought as the wasp unfurled its wings. She didn’t want to startle it, so she held very still – her toothbrush in one hand and toothpaste in the other. She watched it for a moment as it flapped its wings hesitantly, as if to test their stability.

“Please, don’t do that,” she silently pleaded. “Just turn around and go back in.”  Instead, it lifted off her ear and began flying around her head. It circled twice and then darted away, flying quickly through the open bathroom door.

Maggie set down her toothbrush and toothpaste, then grabbed her head and groaned. It had been years since the last time the wasps came – since the doctors told her it was an ear infection, since the doctors told her it was too much caffeine, it was brain damage, it was not brain damage, it was hypertension, it was acoustic trauma – it was irreversible, untreatable, indefinable. Maybe you should talk to a psychiatrist, Maggie. Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself, Maggie? I’ll prescribe something for your nerves, Maggie.

“Oh God, please no.” She looked at the bottles lined up in the corner. There were only two now. Once there were three, and then five, and then she didn’t want to take them anymore. Please don’t make me take them anymore. They didn’t make the buzzing stop – they didn’t put the wasps to sleep. There was only one way to put the wasps to sleep and it didn’t come in a bottle and she put the wasps to sleep but now there were new bottles and…

#

It had been years – years since she took the gasoline and the match to the wasp nest – the one in the gnarled tree out behind her house – the tree that the crazy old man who sold her the house told her to stay away from.  She thought he meant that she was in danger of getting stung – that the wasps were aggressive.

“Just douse the thing with gas, light it on fire, and run,” her father had told her. So she had – and then she’d watched it burn from behind the safety of her screen door. The buzzing began a week later – and she’d gone through tests and more tests and therapy and more tests – but it only grew louder and louder and louder.

Six months later, just when she’d accepted that she’d have to learn to live with the buzzing inside her head, they started appearing – from her ears, from her nose, from her mouth. They crawled out in the middle of the night and built their nests inside the walls and under the floors and in the closets and under the beds.

They crawled into her shoes and fell out of her pockets; they clogged her pipes and infested her kitchen. Everywhere – everywhere – they buzzed and crawled and buzzed and flew and buzzed and stung. Finally, when she could take no more, when she’d been stung for the last time, when she could hear nothing else but the demonic buzzing, she took care of them the only way she knew how: she took the gas can, doused the house, climbed up on top of the bed, and lit a match.

The buzzing stopped.

#

After she’d put her life back together – after she’d made it through years of burn therapy, after the psychiatrists explained that she’d had a psychotic break, after she’d met and married the cute nurse, after she graduated from law school, after they’d had two children – after all of that – on some days she didn’t actually think about the wasps.

She peered out of the bathroom and looked at her husband, lying peacefully in bed. The wasp buzzed around the room, then slipped out of the door into the hall. She followed it, quietly, as it flitted about, and then saw it fly into the room where her two boys slept.

“Oh, God,” she gasped. She pushed the door open, and then watched as the wasp settled into the pillow of her eldest child. “No,” she pleaded, “Please, God, no.”

The wasp walked up the boy’s neck, onto his ear, paused for a second, and then disappeared inside. He whimpered quietly, but did not wake up.

Maggie stumbled back against the wall and slowly slid to her knees. She began to sob quietly. She knew what lay in store for her son – for her whole family – and she knew that she couldn’t bear to see them put through it. There was only one way to fix it – only one way to keep the wasps from buzzing.

The only way she knew how.

free rent

Robert nearly flipped over the handlebars of his bike when he saw the sign. Nestled between a poorly pruned shrub and a table full of household junk for sale, the cardboard, hand-lettered sign read, “Free Rent.”

As a bike messenger who liked to spend most of his money getting high, a rent-free apartment was akin to manna from heaven.

#

“I don’t know, it sounds fishy,” Jessica said with a toss of her auburn hair.

“The landlady said that she needs someone to mow the lawn and to pay utilities – she’d rather rent it for free than lose more money by shelling out for heat and stuff.”

“I still think it sounds weird. Why can’t she find anyone to rent it for real?”

“The economy sucks. Plus, it doesn’t have any parking. You have to park your car on the street. And I have a bike. So it’s perfect.”

“I guess.”

“Well, would you rather I move in with you?”

Jessica sighed. “You know my parents won’t be ok with us living together until we’re engaged, at least.”

“I know, I know. Your mom’s a preacher and your dad’s old school.”

“Then why do you keep asking?”

“‘Cause I keep hoping that you’ll change your mind.”

“Well, I’m not going to.” She shoved a pan at him, “Here, hold this.”

He bobbled the potholder, but managed to avoid spilling hot pasta sauce on himself. “So, do you think it’s a good deal, then?”

“Yeah, you’re not going to find a deal like that again.”

“Ok, good. ‘Cause I already signed the lease.”

Jessica rolled her eyes and shook her head. Robert smiled.

He moved in the next day. He had to make six trips on his bike, but eventually got all of his clothes and books moved over.

Since he didn’t have any furniture or appliances of his own, the small, semi-furnished, one bedroom apartment was perfect. The single closet held all of his clothes, the dresser contained more than enough room for his underwear and toiletries, and the small wooden was just big enough for his laptop. The only issue was lack of a bookcase. He had to pile his books in one corner for the time being.

He flopped on the bed, exhausted. The bedsprings creaked ever so slightly. “Hmm,” he thought to himself, “I’ll have to fix that.” He closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable, and then drifted off. A knock on the door woke him up, and he rolled off the bed, groggy and unsure how much time had passed.

He dragged himself over the door and opened it to find his girlfriend, Jessica.

“Hey,” she said, “sorry about not being able to help earlier.”

“It’s all good.”

She held up a six pack of Dortmunder. “I thought maybe we could celebrate your new place, now, though.”

“All right!” Robert exclaimed as he stepped back to let her in.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

“It’s…small.”

“Yeah, but free.”

“Right. It’s nice, I guess. Although it’s sorta dark, and it kinda smells musty.”

“Well, I’ll have to scavenge a lamp.”

“Do you have some place to put the beer?”

“And a fridge.”

Jessica sighed, and then set the beer on the desk next to the laptop. “Drink?”

“Oh, yeah!”

After they sipped down a beer each, Jessica leaned over to Robert and whispered in his ear, “Want to christen the bed?”

Robert smiled and winked at her, then pulled off his shirt. They raced each other to be naked first, tossing their clothes around the room with wild abandon. Soon, Robert was on his back and Jessica was astride him, gently rocking her hips against his.

Robert groaned as she moved. He helped guide the motion of her hips as she thrust against him. Then, suddenly, she stopped.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked.

Jessica looked around. “It’s weird. It feels like we’re being watched.”

Robert shook his head and tried to coax her hips with his hands. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Jessica remained still and swiveled her head the other way. “Your laptop isn’t on is it? You’re not recording this, are you?”

“No,” he said, somewhat exasperated.

“Because that was a one-time thing.”

“I know, I know.”

“Are you sure?”

“Do you think I’m dumb? I know how mad you’d be if I did that without asking.”

“I don’t think you’re dumb. I just think you’re a guy.”

“Not every guy is a douchebag.”

Jessica contemplated this for a moment, then leaned forward and pressed her generous breasts against his chest. “Want to do it from behind?”

“You mean, butt sex?”

She groaned and rolled her eyes. “No, doggie style.”

“Oh, sure,” he paused as she climbed off of him, “Why?”

Jessica took up position on her hands and knees. “Because then whoever’s watching us will be staring at your ass, not mine.”

Robert frowned for a second, shrugged, and then grabbed her hips.

#

“This is an awesome lamp,” Robert thought to himself. Three giant, amber globes were stuck on the end of flexible, golden arms, which were then braided and encircled in bronze to make the long base of the floor lamp. In effect, it looked like a golden mushroom had mated with an anemic ficus. “This is going to look so good next to the fridge.”

He’d spotted a sea-foam-green mini fridge on a tree lawn the day after he’d moved in, and wasted no time in appropriating it for his new bachelor pad. This week, he’d lucked out again, and discovered the lamp waiting by the side of the road.

As he pulled his bike up the curb, he saw Edith, his landlord, was outside watering her garden. Her white housedress matched her white slippers, and she unsteadily carried a green watering can in one hand. Through an open window, big band music emanated from an equally unsteady record player.

“Oh wow,” he thought, “I wonder if she’s got a vinyl collection going?” He carried the lamp with him as he walked up the short sidewalk, and then paused, hoping to catch her attention.

Edith paid no attention to him – she seemed to be focused on examining her begonias. He stood behind her for a minute as she spoke to herself, “Well, well, what do you think, then?”

She paused for a moment, and then, “So it would seem. A good choice, indeed.”

After another beat she chuckled, and then said, “Good, good.”

Robert said loudly, “Hi Edith!”

She stood up with a start, “Oh! My goodness. I didn’t see you there.”

“No problem!” Robert continued, very loudly.

Edith frowned. “No need to shout, I can hear you just fine.”

“Oh.” Robert said at a normal volume, “Sorry – I figured…um…anyway. I just wanted to say that the room’s working out great so far.”

“That’s very nice to hear, Robert.” She looked at the lamp and frowned. “Where did you find that?”

“Oh, this?” he smiled proudly, “I found it on the curb. Isn’t it awesome?”

“Well, that’s one word for it, I suppose. My late husband had one just like it. It was the first thing I threw out when he passed.”

“Oh,” Robert wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Um. Ok. Well, thanks again. I’ll be sure to mow the lawn tomorrow.”

“That’s nice dear,” she smiled warmly. “Just watch out for the begonias.”

“I will. Thanks, Edith. Have a nice day.”

Robert admired the lamp as he carried it upstairs. “Don’t let her upset you, lamp. Her old man had good taste.”

 #

Jessica had never liked Robert’s best friend, Molly. She was tall, with a lithe body honed by hours on a bicycle, and, despite an assortment of tattoos and piercings, she was effortlessly pretty. Moreover, she’d had a crush on Robert for years – one that he was the only person not to recognize. So, while he knew that Jessica disapproved of them spending time together, he nevertheless invited her over after work to show off his new place.

Molly showed up with a six pack of beer just as Robert finished cleaning up from the day’s ride. He answered the door in his shorts, and missed seeing her blush as he turned to grab a shirt from a pile next to his bed.

“Wow,” she said as she walked in, “that refrigerator is green.”

Robert patted the sea-foam green mini fridge. “Yeah, it’s so ugly it’s awesome, and…” he held up a finger for emphasis, “…it was free.”

“Nicely done,” she bit her lip as she snuck a glance at his muscular torso.

“I got a lamp, too, finally,” he said as he pulled the shirt over his head, “Still no luck with a bookcase though.”

Thankful for the distraction, Molly looked at the amber and gold floor lamp with a mixture of awe and revulsion. “It’s like the seventies vomited in here.”

“Yeah.”

“Totally vintage. I love it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s got a ‘fuck everyone’ attitude to it. Plus, it’s cozy.”

“Right on.”

“What’s that noise?” she cocked her head toward the door.

“What’re you talking about?”

“Don’t you hear that? It’s some kind of music.”

He could hear it now – big band music drifted lazily up from the apartment below. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“It sounds like old people music. Like you see in movies.”

“It’s just the landlady. She’s old.” Robert distributed two cans of beer from the six-pack and then stuffed the remainders in the fridge. He popped his open and began to drink greedily, but Molly fiddled with hers.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Oh,” Molly looked at him, nervously, “um, nothing. Hey, can I take a shower? I stink something fierce.”

“Uh huh,” Robert shrugged. “Sure. I think there’s a clean towel on the rack in there.”

“Thanks!” she smiled, set down the beer, and disappeared into the bathroom. She didn’t bother to close the door all the way, so Robert sat down on the bed and tried not to move while he heard the shower running.

A few minutes later, he heard the water turn off, and then looked up to see Molly standing in the bathroom doorway, wearing only a towel – on her head.

“So,” she said with a smile, “you like what you see?”

“Woah.”

She crossed the room, sat down in his lap, and wrapped her arms around his neck. “So?”

Robert felt the warmth of her naked flesh pressed against him. His head swam, and then she kissed him.

 #

Afterward, they lay across each other in bed, and Molly lit a joint. She took a deep drag, held her breath, and then handed it to Robert.

“I caught you watching me in the shower,” Molly said after finally exhaling.

Robert coughed. “What?”

“I could feel you looking at me, and when I looked over, I caught a glimpse of you in the mirror.” She smiled.

“No way, I’m not a creeper.”

“Whatever. I’m just glad that you finally noticed I have tits.” She reached over, stroked his chest, and took the joint back.

“No, but for real,” Robert sat up, visibly upset. “I wasn’t creeping. I was sitting here on the bed the whole time.”

Now it was Molly’s turn to wrinkle her face. “I’m sure I was being watched. Like I said, I saw you dart away in the mirror.”

“I swear to you, it wasn’t me.”

“Well, if it wasn’t you, who was it?”

Robert felt a chill race over his bare skin. “I don’t know, but you’re not the first person to say they felt like they were being watched.”

Molly raised an eyebrow.

“Jess and I were doing it the night I moved in, and she said something like that, too.”

“Ugh,” Molly rolled over and swung her feet off the edge of the bed, “fucking buzz kill.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

Molly extinguished the joint in the ashtray, stood up and walked into the bathroom. “I’m getting out of here,” her voice wavered.

“Why?”

“You think I want to hear about you banging that fat bitch right after we did it for the first time?”

“First time?”

Molly emerged from the bathroom, zipped up her jacket, and then wiped her eyes. “Jesus, you are such an asshole.”

#

Robert collapsed back on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He’d just cheated on his girlfriend with a girl he considered his best friend, and who, it was now apparent, felt a whole lot stronger about him than he felt about her.

“Fuck. I am an asshole.”

The brassy sounds of big band grew louder as he pulled the joint out of the ashtray and relit it. He took a deep breath and relaxed. A moment later, a movement in the bathroom startled him. He sat up and stared through the half-open door, waiting.

“There it is again!” he thought. A shadow flickered along the wall – something man sized. “What the fuck?”

He jumped from the bed and slammed open the door. The room was freezing, but, save for a pile of dirty towels, empty. He felt goose bumps run over his naked flesh as he pulled the curtain back on the shower, looked in the cabinet under the sink, and checked behind the door – nothing.

“Ok. That’s kinda fucked up.” Robert thought. “And now I’ve lost my buzz. And I’m cold. Awesome.”

#

The next day, Robert was in a funk. He spotted Molly as they crossed routes, but she wouldn’t look at him. He hadn’t talked to Jessica yet, and debated whether to tell her what happened. He rode erratically as he talked to himself, going back and forth, trying to weigh the pros and cons. Finally, after nearly running into a car for the third time in an hour, he decided he needed to come clean.

He stopped off at home to change before going to visit her, and, as he climbed the stairs, he heard Edith’s music in the background. It sounded like it was coming from his room, but when he opened the door he realized that it was just a trick of the acoustics in the stairs.

“Weird,” he thought. He shrugged off his bag and stripped off his hoodie then dropped them in the middle of the floor. He stopped and looked around. The pile of clothes that had been accumulating right where he dropped his clothes was no longer there.

Not only was the pile of clothes gone, but the pile of beer bottles that had been stacked atop his fridge had been cleaned up and his garbage emptied. The apartment was spotless – everything had been dusted, his books had been stacked neatly on the floor, and his clothes had been hung up in the closet and put back in the dresser. He scratched his head.

Edith must have cleaned his room for him. That was the only thing that made sense, and he smiled despite himself. It was a nice gesture that brought a little bit of sun back into his gloomy day. “Nice,” he thought. Suddenly, he felt a blast of cold air pass through him as the door slammed shut. He jumped and then shivered. It felt ten degrees cooler.

“Double weird,” he thought. He made a mental note to ask about the heat, and then stripped down and climbed into the shower. He rehearsed how he was going to break the news as he let the warm water soothe his aching muscles. When he was done, he toweled off and wandered out into the room to find clothes.

As he opened his dresser, he noticed that his hoodie was now hanging on a coat hook on the back of the door – one he hadn’t realized existed. His bag was slung over the back of his chair. A chill ran up his spine and he felt uncomfortable being naked in his own room.

“Ok. I’m going to have to talk to her about that,” he thought to himself. “She can’t just keep wandering in here while I’m in the shower. What if I was jerking off or something?”

Once dressed, he double checked himself in the mirror and took a deep breath. “Now or never, man. Now or never,” he told himself.

#

“What did you do?” Jessica asked, staring at the flowers.

“What do you mean?” Robert asked – his voiced strained.

“You’re a tightwad, and those probably cost fifty bucks.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“A guy can’t buy his girlfriend flowers for no reason?”

“Some guys can. You, no.” She frowned. “So you’re apologizing for something, but what is it?”

“I, uh.”

“Really?”

“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry,” he broke down.

“So what was it?”

“Well,” he trailed off, “see…”

“Let me guess, you fucked Molly.”

“What, how do you know that?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! You asshole!”

“Not on purpose!”

“Why would you do that?”

“Well, she was at my apartment, and she was taking a shower.”

“Oh my God,” Jessica’s eyes welled up.

“I’m sorry.”

“How could you do this?”

“It was an accident!”

“An accident?”

“She came out of the shower and she was naked, and I was kinda buzzed, and, you know. Well…”

“Out!” she screamed, “get the fuck out!”

“But!”

“Out!”

Standing outside in the rain, Robert felt bewildered, confused, and adrift. “What now?” he thought to himself. He stuffed the flowers back into his bag, hopped on his bike and rode through the streets. He was well-versed at screwing up, but this time he’d outdone himself.

By the time he was back at his apartment, he was soaked to the bone. As he locked up his bike behind the house, he heard the big band music again. He rounded the corner and saw Edith twirling outside in the rain. She was standing in front of an open window, with her arms raised – as though she were dancing with someone a foot taller.

As he neared her, he could hear here talking to herself, “Soon, darling, soon.”

“Hi Edith,” Robert said, somewhat confused.

“Oh, hello,” she said, startled. She turned and smiled at him.

“Are you ok?”

“Oh, sure – sometimes I just like to dance.”

“In the rain?”

“Why not? You’re out in the rain.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Robert shook his head. “Oh, thanks for cleaning up, by the way.”

“What’s that?”

“I said, thanks for cleaning up the apartment.”

Edith frowned. “I never touched your apartment.”

“But,” he stopped and stared at her. “Ok.”

Bewildered, he slowly climbed the steps. “If she didn’t clean my apartment, who did?” He started to feel uncomfortable, but then shrugged it off. “Ah, hell, she’s old,” he told himself, “she probably just doesn’t remember.”

#

Robert lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Normally, when he didn’t know what else to do, he would get high, but he’d smoked the last of his weed with Molly, and, after buying the flowers, he didn’t have enough spare cash to buy more. So, instead, he tried to see patterns in the texture of the ceiling plaster. He’d found one that looked somewhat like a giraffe, and was trying to think of an appropriate name for it when his cell phone rang.

It was Jessica. He took a deep breath, and then clicked answer, “Hello?”

“Hi. What are you doing?”

“Just lying here.”

“Are you high?”

“Nah, I’m out of weed. What’s up?”

“I miss you. I wanted to talk.”

“I thought you broke up with me.”

“No, I threw you out of my house. There’s a difference.”

“So you didn’t break up with me?”

“Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, yes, sorry.”

“I have to ask you something, and I want you to be honest.”

Robert felt his stomach flop, “Ok?”

“Are you in love with her?” Jessica’s voice cracked as she asked the question.

“What? Molly? No! No way. She’s just my friend. I swear.”

“But she’s in love with you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I guess so. But I didn’t know, I swear.”

“No,” she sighed, “I believe you.”

Robert paused, unsure of what to say. Jessica broke the silence, “Are you at your place?”

“Yes.”

“She’s not there, is she?”

“No.”

“Ok. I’m coming over.”

#

“Did you clean?” Jessica asked as she entered the room and took off her jacket. She was dressed in a tight t-shirt and hip-hugger jeans. Robert felt nervous – he’d half-expected her to show up with a baseball bat, but instead she was standing in his room, looking fabulous.

“No – I came home yesterday and everything was put away.” He gestured toward the mint-green fridge, “Beer?”

“No, I brought something else.”

Robert’s eyes lit up as she pulled a bag of pot from her pocket. He went to the desk drawer and pulled out a pipe as she crossed the room and sat down on the bed. They packed and smoked most of a bowl before Jessica picked up the conversation, “So who put away your stuff? Tell me it wasn’t Molly.”

“No way – you’ve never seen her apartment, obviously. And besides, she doesn’t have a key.”

“Then who did it?”

“Edith – though I don’t think she remembers doing it.”

“Huh.” She thought for a moment, “That’s kind of creepy.”

“If, by, ‘creepy,’ you mean, ‘free maid service,’ and therefore ‘awesome,’ then yes.”

“I wouldn’t want someone touching my stuff.”

“Eh, whatever. It’s not like I’ve got anything to hide.”

“Except the pot.”

“Well. Er. Uh.”

“But anyway, that’s not the point.”

He stared at her blankly.

“You know that’s not the point, right?” she questioned. He shrugged. Jessica sighed and shook her head.

“What?”

“Nothing. I’m just going to make sure to take anything I bring back home with me, so no creepy old lady touches it.”

“Ok.” Robert thought for a minute. “Hey, if you’re going to be bringing stuff over, does that mean we’re ok?”

They sat in silence for a moment until Jessica reached over and pushed Robert back on the bed. She climbed on top of him, straddled his hips, and then pulled her t-shirt over her head.

“What are you doing?”

“Reclaiming my territory.  Now get these pants off.”

#

Jessica lay across his chest, her soft auburn hair covering his torso. Her chest rose and fell in the moonlight as she slept atop him. Robert couldn’t sleep – he still felt incredibly guilty about what he’d done.

As he stared into the darkness, he heard the music again – though it didn’t sound like it was coming from the apartment below, but from within the room. He cocked his head and watched as the shadows near the foot of the bed began to move.

“Woah,” he thought. “Am I high?”

The shadows began to grow, rising into the air. Robert’s eyes widened and his breath quickened. He could hear his pulse echoing in his ears and feel his heard pounding in his chest. He looked down – Jessica was still asleep and he hoped that she didn’t wake up to see this. When he looked back, he saw a man standing directly in front of them. He was older – with white hair and sunken eyes, and he wore a crisply pressed army uniform.

“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.” Robert thought. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, and it felt like ice water was flowing through his veins. He wasn’t sure whether to scream, or jump out of bed, or pull the covers over his head – so he did nothing.

The man stared at him for a few moments, slowly raised one arm until it was pointing directly at them, and then abruptly disappeared.

Robert didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

#

After a sleepless night, coffee was Robert’s best friend. He had six espressos by the time that Jessica called to invite him over to dinner, and he gulped down another on the way. Beyond getting back into her good graces, he was happy for the invitation because it afforded him an excuse not to go back to his apartment.

“Hey, I know that things are still a little awkward and everything,” Robert said, as he helped chop tomatoes, “but, um…”

“But what?” Jessica asked.

“My apartment is starting to feel really creepy.”

“And?”

“And, I know I keep asking, but maybe I could move in with you.”

Jessica sighed. “Yeah, that’s kind of awkward right now.”

“That’s cool. No big deal.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Well, when you were over last night…”

“Yeah?”

“After you were asleep…”

“Ok.”

“I think I saw a ghost.”

“What? Are you for real?” She looked up from the salad she preparing and stared at Robert with wide eyes.

“Yeah. There was a guy at the foot of the bed. He was staring at us.”

Jessica blanched. “Please say you’re kidding.”

“No way. I saw him.”

“Is that who was watching us?” Jessica gasped. “Was he watching us last night?”

“I don’t know. But it’s totally freaking me out.”

Jessica shivered. “That’s fucked up. Are you sure you weren’t just high?”

“Well,” Robert chuckled, “we were totally high, but I’m sure I saw it.”

“Wow. That’s…wow.” She was quiet for a moment before she said, “I want to see it.”

“The ghost?”

“Yeah. Let’s finish dinner and then we’ll spend the night at your place.”

Robert shivered this time. “Well, ok.”

“But you have to promise that you’ll wake me up if you see it.”

“Uh. Sure.”

“And no sex.”

“What? Why?”

“If you really have a ghost, then I don’t want it watching us while we do it.”

Robert considered this and then asked, “So, you want to have a quickie before we go over?”

Jessica stared at him for a minute before finally shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah, sure.”

#

“Well, do you see him?” Jessica asked as they sat on the bed.

Robert looked around nervously. “No.”

“Hmm. How long do you think we’ll have to wait?”

“I dunno. Things seem to happen whenever.”

“Great.”

“Wait – do you hear that?” The sound of big band music seemed to float up through the floor.

“Yeah – it’s big band music. Where’s that coming from?”

“I thought it was coming from downstairs, but…” he shivered. The room was suddenly cold – it felt like it had suddenly dropped twenty degrees. Jessica noticed too, and she wrapped her arms around herself.

“Why is it so cold?” she asked.

“I dunno, but that usually means that something’s about to…” he trailed off as the bathroom door slowly swung closed.

Jessica looked at him in shock. “Is that for real?”

“Uh, yeah.”

The green mini fridge began to rattle, and then burst open with a crash. Bottles of beer began to fly out, shattering against the far wall.

“Oh shit!” said Jessica. She grabbed Robert’s hand.

“Oh fuck!”said Robert.

The room grew colder still, and then one by one, the books that had been neatly lined up began flying at their heads. Jessica screamed and ducked behind Robert as the bed beneath them began to shake.

“Shit!” Robert swatted the books away as he jumped off the bed. He grabbed Jessica. “Let’s go!”

As they stood up, the specter of the man in the army uniform appeared behind them, standing right in the middle of the bed. The music grew to deafening levels, and Jessica screamed again as the bed lifted up off the ground and raced toward them.

“Run!” Robert screamed as he dragged Jessica behind him. He flung open the door and pushed her into the hall. They nearly tripped over each other as they ran down the stairs, bouncing off the walls in their haste. At the bottom of the stairs, Edith cautiously peeked around the corner.

“My goodness!” she said, her eyes as wide as saucers. “What’s gotten into you two?”

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Robert said as he screeched to a halt. Jessica stopped next to him, but grabbed his arm for protection and moved him between herself and the stairs behind them.

“Whatever for?” Edith said in shock. “Do I need to call the deputies? I heard a lot of banging around going on up there.”

“No – we’ve just got to get out of there.”

“Are you sure? You look scared half to death.”

“This place is haunted!” Jessica blurted out.

“Haunted? Oh my, darling. There are no such things as ghosts.”

“Bullshit, lady,” Jessica said as she tugged at Robert’s arm.

“No, really, this place is fucking haunted,” Robert nodded his head in agreement. “I’m out of here.”

Edith frowned. “Well, I’m going to have to keep your security deposit if there’s any damage up there.”

Robert hastily fished his keys out of his pocket and thrust them at Edith. “Fine, keep it. Keep everything. There’s no way I’m going back to get any of it.”

“Come on, baby, let’s get out of here,” Jessica turned and fearfully looked back up the stairs. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

#

The next morning, Edith smiled to herself as she set the golden floor lamp on the lawn, next to a table filled with Robert’s personal belongings.

“Must you get rid of that again?” said a voice from behind her. She turned to see an older gentleman, about a foot taller than her, with white hair and sunken eyes. He was dressed in an army uniform, and would have looked like any older veteran, if he weren’t ever so slightly translucent.

“It’s been ugly for the last thirty years, and it’s still ugly now. You, however,” she stepped forward and embraced him, “only get better with age.”

“You flatter me, darling,” the specter said.

“No, darling, I love you,” she said playfully.

“As do I – forever and ever.” He took her hands and twirled her around as the sound of big band music floated through the air. “I feel almost young again! The energy of those two was tremendous.”

“How long do you think we have before you fade again?” she asked.

“Two days, maybe three! Shall we dance?”

“Yes, let’s,” she clapped her hands excitedly, “just one more thing.” From behind the table, she pulled out a cardboard, hand-lettered sign and propped it up prominently – so it was visible from the street. It read, “Free Rent.”